Chances are if you live in an older home, you are living with asbestos.

Houses that were built between 1930 and 1950 likely used asbestos installation. Additionally, most sheetrock mud, commonly known as wall-joint compound, contained asbestos fiber. This material was used to blend the seams between drywall panels after they were installed. It was sold and used in construction as recently as 1980.

We have all heard the scary warnings about asbestos use in construction and how it can be harmful to your health.  It is most commonly connected to a disease called mesothelioma – a type of cancer that affects the mesothelium — the protective lining of the lungs, abdomen and heart. And unfortunately, there can be an extremely long latency period. It is usually only diagnosed at an advanced stage and often, it occurs in older people.

Generally, if there is asbestos in the original building material in your home it may not be harmful. Problems occur when the asbestos starts to break down. That can occur simply through aging, but more frequently it is a result of home repair and renovation. When asbestos starts to break up or is disturbed in some way, it can be inhaled or ingested.

Once in your mouth, the asbestos fibers can get to your esophagus and lungs. From there, they can attach to your mesothelium and grow into cancerous cells.

Common exposure scenarios include attic renovation, drilling in drywall, removing popcorn ceiling or vinyl floor tiles and cutting insulation on pipes.

So, the first question to ask is how to determine if there’s asbestos in your home. If it was built in the last 30 to 40 years, it is likely your home has no asbestos. If it’s older than that the best advice is to have a professional determine that for you. While you can collect samples yourself and have them tested, that’s not advisable.

Instead, the recommendation of the U.S. Environmental Protection agency is to find a licensed expert. And the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department strongly suggests using two different contractors certified in asbestos removal – one to test for asbestos and the other to remove it. In that way, you can avoid a potential conflict of interest. 

There is a stringent set of national regulations in place to provide and enforce rules for the proper asbestos handling in contaminated structures, and building owners, managers, and contractors can be held liable if these regulations aren’t followed.

You can click here for specific information from the county about asbestos removal.

The second question about asbestos in your home relates to potential health issues. Unfortunately, that’s more of a challenge. While we know asbestos in your home could be harmful to your health, it is hard to diagnose.

If you are concerned about possible exposure to asbestos, start by talking to your primary-care physician. The is no specific test to detect asbestos fibers in your lungs, there are imaging scans that can be done. If you know that you were exposed to asbestos, and a test comes back negative, a second opinion from a qualified lung specialist such as an occupational pulmonologist, may be in order. And if additional tests come back negative, it’s a good idea to get tested on an annual basis. Remember, it can often take 15 years before any diseases from exposure to asbestos can be diagnosed.

Finally, one last reminder – if you live in an old home and are planning renovation or preparing to sell, getting a qualified inspector to search for asbestos is a critical first step.