Asbestos in Insulating Cement

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According to a prominent construction industry website, “insulation” is defined as any material, or combination of materials, that inhibit the flow of heat, either by reducing the loss or gain of heat, controlling the surface temperatures of specific materials, or increasing the operating efficiency of HVAC systems. Insulating cement is one such material.

Cement itself is not flammable; the primary purpose for addingasbestos fiber to this substance was to increase its tensile strength, which in turn allowed the application and manufacture of very thin layers (transite wall board and siding is one example). Asbestos also saved a great deal of weight, as the material itself is relatively light. In many ways, it was similar to other asbestos-containing troweled-on materials, such as “popcorn” ceiling textures that were popular from the mid-1950s until well into the 1970s.

Insulating cement was also used to fill voids in the outer walls of structures, or sprayed or troweled on in order to more make the building more energy efficient. The manufacture and sale of asbestos-containing insulation cement and other such products were prohibited by regulations issued by the EPA in 1978, however the ban only stopped the manufacture and sale of new materials; it did nothing to stop the sale of existing stocks that had been produced prior to the enactment of such regulations. Therefore, the use of asbestos-containing insulating cement most likely continued well into the early 1980s.

Like popcorn ceilings and wall textures, insulating cement which contains cement represents some of the most hazardous of all asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). Like virtually all concrete and cement products, insulating cement will continue to deteriorate over the years, causing the release of asbestos fibers into the environment.

Because of the nature of ACM insulating cement, it is highly inadvisable for homeowners to attempt dealing with it themselves; for owners of commercial or rental properties, it is illegal. Such persons who attempt removal of ACMs from property accessible to and/or used by the general public or other third parties may be charged with a felony, fined up to a quarter million dollars and sentenced to five years in a state penitentiary.

Trained and certified asbestos contractors may be able to remove the material, or encapsulate the substance with special resin compounds that have been developed for this purpose. Sealing deteriorating insulation cement with such resins can prevent the material from becoming friable, thus releasing asbestos fibers into the building.