Although the word “asbestos” is used these days mainly in relation to its health risks and dangers, it is widely applied in a range of functions. This substance, which is actually a group of naturally occurring minerals, has been used in shipping, construction materials, automotive repairs, mining and other purposes. The range of benefits that asbestos offers is huge, but inhaled over a period of time, the microscopic particles of asbestos pose dangerous health risks. They have been linked to rare and painful forms of cancer such as mesothelioma.
Most people have been exposed to minute amounts of asbestos. Houses, businesses and schools built before 1980 often were full of materials containing asbestos. From the cement pipes and vinyl siding, to ceiling and floor tiles and textured paints; asbestos was present in so many products that it is almost impossible to entirely avoid.
Your home’s heating and cooling ducts could also contain asbestos. For years, lagging cloth has been used by the HVAC industry to seal cracks and openings in heating and cooling systems within homes, offices and other buildings. A lagging adhesive is applied to any area along the duct system that is experiencing, or could encounter, an outflow of air—be it from a gap at the joint or an imperfection in the actual unit. It is then wrapped with the lagging cloth. In the prime of asbestos usage, this cloth was typically, if not always, made with asbestos fibers as part of the material. Manufactures of lagging cloth found that using asbestos as one of the components reduced costs and increased both the durability and insulative properties of the product. Since asbestos-containing lagging cloth was basically the only variety on the market, it would be found in almost any building with a heating and cooling system built or installed prior to the 1980s.
The dangers of asbestos inhalation are at their highest when a person is working in the construction industry in close proximity to asbestos, on a prolonged basis. However, the heath risks that are posed to those who live in residential buildings where the heating system includes ducts and pipes that are made of asbestos, cannot be discounted. Unfortunately, there haven’t been enough studies to prove the effects of asbestos in heating ducts on the residents of the house. Experts agree, however, that the potential for long-term heath effects could be high. There is also a potential for economic risks; a house with a heating system known to contain asbestos could be harder to sell on the market. Future homeowners could be put off by the thought of asbestos in their heating ducts.
You can draw comfort from the fact that the material lying still does not release enough particles to be a health risk. It’s only when the asbestos is moved or damaged that the chances of direct inhalation are enhanced. If you have heating ducts containing asbestos in your home, you’re advised not to try removing the pipe wrap on your own, but to call experienced asbestos abatement technicians.