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Asbestos is one of the most infamous materials in the world. It’s something many people have heard of…but you may not be quite sure exactly what it is. If you are planning on remodeling an older building or purchasing a home, it’s important to keep you and your family safe by checking to see if there are asbestos-containing materials on the property.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous material. When the fibers are pulled, asbestos looks like cotton candy. Less than 50 years ago, asbestos was one of the most common materials used in construction. So much so that people who worked with insulation were referred to as “asbestos workers”.

At the time, asbestos was considered the perfect material for insulation. It is heat resistant, naturally occurring, and easy to mix with other materials, like cement, fabric, paper or spray-on coatings. Asbestos is very inexpensive and could be easily extracted from mines in the United States. Additionally, it is fireproof, resistant to chemical corrosion and strengthens any material that it is combined with. However, when it was revealed that asbestos can cause a wide variety of health issues, including cancer and a slew of respiratory problems, its use throughout the States was quickly abandoned.

When was asbestos used?

Although asbestos is still used in some countries, such as Russia, it was banned in the United States starting in 1977. Asbestos was widely used, especially in insulation, during the 1930’s through the 1950’s. It continued to be used until it was banned for certain uses in the 70’s. A series of bans were then put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency, and by the year 1989, it was illegal to use asbestos in any new products being made.

If you are planning to buy or remodel a home built before asbestos was banned, it is wise to check and see if asbestos is present before moving forward. It can save you a lot of trouble in the long run to investigate sooner rather than later.

How can I tell if there is asbestos in my home?

 So, if you know your house was built in a time when asbestos use was widespread, your next question is likely: “How do I know if there is asbestos in my house?”. It isn’t possible to identify asbestos simply by looking at it.  

 By knowing the date in which your home was built, you can determine if there is a risk that there may be asbestos in your home.  If you are concerned that there may be asbestos, you can contact a lab to send a sample for analysis or hire a professional trained in identifying asbestos to come perform a test in the home.  It should be inexpensive and straightforward to do asbestos testing. Do not listen to anyone who tells you that asbestos can be identified just by looking!

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Is asbestos bad for you?

 Asbestos is made up of particles that do not break down.  This makes it a strong material for construction, but it is also what makes it so dangerous. It’s important to note that asbestos should never be disturbed unnecessarily!  Asbestos in itself is not bad for you.  However, asbestos particles can cause health problems that can be deadly.

 That’s why it’s important not to disturb asbestos.  If you are remodeling, for example, this can shake the asbestos particles loose.  Once inhaled, the particles settle in the lungs and are stuck there. Since they cannot be broken down, they irritate the lungs and eventually can cause very serious health problems.  


What are the first signs of asbestos poisoning?

 One of the tricky things about asbestos is that it can take up to 30 years between exposure and the first signs of disease.  The longer or more frequently someone is exposed, the more likely they are to develop a disease related to asbestos inhalation.  Asbestos can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, among other issues.

 The first signs of asbestos poisoning to look out for are:

  • a tight feeling in your chest or chest pain
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • loss of appetite
  • nail deformities or enlarged fingertips
  • persistent, dry cough