Asbestos in HVAC Duct Insulation

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Asbestos well documented health effects have raised public awareness about the sources of this material in our homes and places of work. We tend to be aware of the more obvious sources of asbestos in our vicinity – asbestos roofs or shingles, for instance. However, other components of our homes and offices also harbor this material, and not all of them are as easily apparent as roofs. Your HVAC systems, for instance, may contain asbestos, and chances are you’re not even aware of it.

HVAC systems in residential or commercial buildings are necessary to maintain stability in temperatures, and to ensure a supply of fresh air into the building. Your HVAC system consists of heating, ventilation and air conditioning components that work in harmony to warm and cool the environment, wherever appropriate. In order to perform these warming and cooling functions, your HVAC unit needs to be insulated. One of the most commonly used materials for insulation before the 1980s happens to be asbestos.

For a long time, asbestos was the material of choice for HVAC insulation. It was inexpensive, and was a bad conductor of heat, which made it more cost effective when it came to keeping air cooled or heated for longer periods of time. With the increased focus on the dangers of asbestos in housing material and the constantly high numbers of deaths due to asbestos related causes, health experts have been calling for the removal of asbestos in all its forms from buildings where the material is used, including in the form of HVAC insulation.

Although asbestos by itself does not release the amount of particles in the air that are necessary for a person to inhale the fiber, this equation changes when the asbestos is moved, or in the case of HVAC insulation, breaks down. HVAC asbestos insulation can break down over a period of time, and after prolonged use. This crumbled asbestos can then release particles into the air. If you consider that the HVAC system is responsible for pumping of fresh clean air into the building, you will begin to understand the enormity of the problem. People inside the building can inhale these microscopic particles, which are impossible to remove or dislodge once they are inside the body. Removal of the insulation from the HVAC pipes is a time consuming affair, and can also be very expensive, which compounds the problem further.

Many of the people who now show signs of asbestos related diseases were exposed to asbestos in housing materials like HVAC insulation and heating ducts. Because most asbestos related diseases take so long to manifest themselves, the disease isn’t diagnosed till as many as 40 years after exposure, by which time the disease will have progressed very far.