Asbestos In Buildings: What it is and Where it Can Be Found


What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used in various products since pre-historic times. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the public started to become aware of adverse health effects from exposure and it became regulated by the federal government under AHERA in 1986.

Because of its strength and resistance to heat, it became popular in a number of manufacturing practices. Due to this popularity, it can be found today in a number of residential and commercial materials such as drywall compound, floor tile and adhesive and insulation.

Asbestos Exposure and Health Effects

Asbestos exposure has been linked to various cancers and lung disorders. Most health effects take at least 15 years to occur after initial exposure with mesothelioma taking up to 30 years or more.

Asbestos Exposure typically takes place when a building material such as drywall compound or insulation is disturbed during renovations or construction or degrades in condition to the point where individual fibers are being released into the atmosphere, compromising indoor air quality. These items are referred to as “friable.” Once in the atmosphere these fibers can be inhaled where they can become lodged in the lungs or digestive system and remain for life. If long term exposure occurs, fibers can accumulate and cause scarring and inflammation which effect breathing and may lead to disease.

Asbestos Federal Regulations

To date, the U.S federal government has not completely banned asbestos. It is, however, heavily regulated. Asbestos was first officially identified as a toxic substance in the Clean Air Act of 1970. Since then the federal government has imposed regulations on the use, placement and removal of asbestos containing materials. Building owners for example, must have an inspection performed before any construction, renovation or demolition activities occur. All individuals removing asbestos must be licensed by either the state where work will take place or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

What Building Materials is Asbestos Found In?

Asbestos containing building materials are most often found in homes constructed prior to 1979, although it is not uncommon to find it in specific materials in homes built in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. Asbestos is commonly found in various types of insulation as well as common building materials such as drywall joint compounds and plaster. It is also commonly found in a variety of flooring materials and the adhesives associated with them. The fibrous material can also be found in various roofing components. While there are specific building materials commonly associated with asbestos content, it is still being found in new places. Recently, many have been shocked to discover asbestos in crayons.

Testing and Consulting Process

If asbestos is a concern, the first step is an inspection. Only a state or federally licensed inspector is qualified to perform such a task. In general, testing involves the licensed consultant performing a visual inspection and review of construction history to ascertain the possible locations of asbestos containing materials. Upon doing this, a list of materials to be sampled will be compiled. As part of the testing process, sampling must be destructive in nature. For example: if drywall is a “suspect material,” then a piece of drywall must be taken for analysis. A good inspector will do their best to collect samples from areas not usually visible to building occupants. Once samples are collected, they are logged in and either analyzed in-house or sent to a lab for microscopy analysis. At this point, the degree or lack of content will be ascertained.

Once it is identified in a structure, a consultant can advise the owner on where the material is located and how it must be removed according to state, local and federal law. Often, the inspector can recommend a remediation (removal) company to remove the structural components as well. Regardless of who performs this work, the project should always involve containment set-up to prevent cross contamination and air sampling. This will ensure that toxic fibers do not migrate from the source and flow into the rest of the structure, possibly leading to future concerns. Upon all materials being removed, air samples should be taken to document that no asbestos fibers remain in the environment. This is referred to as “Post Remediation Verification.”


After all work has been completed, a building owner should expect the necessary paper work documenting the scope of work and technical analysis displaying that removal was carried out in the proper manner. This document is required for any future real estate transactions.

One comment

  1. Nash Rich says:

    I didn’t know that asbestos could be found in flooring materials. I lived in some old apartments back in college and they must have been build in the 70s. Knowing this now, I’m afraid to think if I was living with asbestos. Good thing I’m out of there. Thanks for the info.

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