Asbestos has been used in building materials since the early 1900s. Its structure – microscopic, dense, tightly-packed fibers – gives it excellent insulating qualities, resistance to heat, strength and durability. There are several types of asbestos with varying properties. Chrysotile, or “white asbestos,” was most noted for insulation, fire resistance and noise reduction.
Because it insulates so well, asbestos was used for many years to insulate furnaces, boilers, tanks and pipes. A variety of formulas or methods were used to create asbestos insulation. One method was air cell pipe covering, in which layers of plain and corrugated asbestos paper alternated to create the insulation material.
Asbestos is naturally present in very small amounts in the soil, water and air, and many people live or work around materials containing asbestos without any problems. When asbestos is bound up in building materials that are in good condition, it poses almost no danger. If those materials are damaged in some way, however, the small asbestos fibers can be released into the air. They may eventually wind up in the lungs, where they can remain for many years. Some people who have been exposed to asbestos fibers develop diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis or mesothelioma. Symptoms of these conditions can first show up anywhere from 15 to 40 years after exposure.
The use of asbestos in building materials, including insulation, was banned in 1978, but existing stocks of materials could still be used. Therefore, a home or commercial building built in or before the 1980s could potentially contain dangerous air cell pipe insulation. Unless there is a manufacturer’s name on the insulation, the only way to confirm that it contains asbestos is through testing a small sample.
If air cell pipe insulation containing asbestos is present but is in good condition, it may be best to do nothing except inspect the material regularly for damage. As long as it remains intact, the asbestos fibers will not be released. If, however, damage is present, or if the home or building will be renovated, then it is time to call in a professional contractor or asbestos abatement company. Under no circumstances should untrained people handle or remove asbestos, as the potential for health hazards is high.
An asbestos professional should be able to provide proof that he or she has completed the proper training and licensing to be able to test, analyze and/or remove asbestos. This training might be offered by the federal government (through the Environmental Protection Agency), or through state or local government. Check with the appropriate government agency in your area to learn what training is required and what other regulations may exist.