Ceiling tiles are lightweight tiles used in buildings for a variety of purposes, including insulation, fire protection, sound absorption, and decoration. Between World War II and the 1970s, asbestos was widely used to make construction materials heat-resistant. While asbestos in construction materials is not currently banned in the U.S. , it is not typically used in new construction because of liability issues and health concerns. However, asbestos ceiling tiles are still present in thousands of buildings, including residences and schools.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber primarily used in construction materials to promote heat resistance. After health studies were conducted showing asbestos was hazardous human respiratory health, its use in construction materials was phased out. Studies show that people exposed to elevated levels of asbestos develop lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis because fibroid tissues scar the lungs and cause difficult breathing. These diseases are a direct result of inhaling fibers from damaged asbestos-containing products. When asbestos is inhaled, the fibers accumulate in the lungs and cannot be broken down by the body. There is no safe level of asbestos in the body.
Ceiling tiles typically use a type of asbestos called amosite as a fire retardant, as well as another type of asbestos called chrysotile. Asbestos cannot be visually identified in ceiling tiles, but a simple rule is to assume that all ceiling tiles installed before 1981 contain asbestos fibers. It is not recommended that homeowners remove ceiling tiles in older houses without first sending a sample to be tested for asbestos fibers. If the ceiling tiles are intact and undamaged, there is less health risk than if the ceiling is damaged, because ceiling tiles will not release asbestos fibers unless they are damaged in some way. If a ceiling is drilled, broken, sawed, or removed, it may release asbestos fibers, so asbestos management practices must be employed if it is determined that ceiling tiles contain asbestos.