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Environmental Health Division
Asbestos in Minnesota Homes
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber mined from the earth. It is heat and chemical resistant, and is easily formed into just about any shape or product. It was used in more than 3,000 different construction materials and manufactured products, including many found in homes.
Why is it a concern?
When disturbed, asbestos breaks down into very small fibers up to 1,200 times thinner than a human hair. These tiny fibers easily become airborne and when inhaled, they can travel deep into the lungs and become trapped in lung tissue. Once trapped, these fibers can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. There's no known safe level of asbestos exposure, and medical research indicates these fibers can cause severe lung diseases and cancer in 10 to 30 years after the initial asbestos exposure.
This is why it's important to identify asbestos-containing materials in your home so you can protect your health as well as your family's.
What products contain asbestos?
The following is a short list of some of the more common asbestos containing materials found in homes:
- Ceiling texture (Popcorn texture)
- Ceiling tiles
- Ceiling tile mastic
Cement-asbestos board (Transite) products
- Chimney flue lining
- Wall panels
- Cloth wire insulation
- Electrical panels
- Asphalt floor tiles
- Floor tile mastic
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Vinyl sheet flooring
Heating and cooling system products
- Boiler insulation
- Duct work insulation
- Furnace insulation
- Heat shields (paper and corrugated cardboard)
- Pipe insulation
- Tank insulation
Paints and coatings
- Base flashing
- Tar or "Black Jack"
- Attic and wall insulation
- Fireplace decoration
- Gardening products
Vinyl wall coverings
- Caulking and putties
- Spackling compounds
Wallboard or sheetrock
Wallboard joint compound
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How do I find out if it's asbestos?
You can check for asbestos markings on the material or its packaging, or hire a Minnesota-certified asbestos inspector to sample the material or perform an asbestos inspection. Companies that perform sampling and inspections can be found on MDH's Find A Contractor or Consultant web page, or contact MDH.
Aren't all asbestos products banned?
No. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned the use of only the following asbestos-containing products in
- Spray-applied material.
- Pipe insulation
- Boilers and hot water tank insulation
- Various paper and sheet products
- New uses of asbestos.
The EPA has no existing bans on other asbestos-containing products or uses.
If you have asbestos in your home…
Leave it alone
Asbestos is only a problem if asbestos fibers are released into the air. If the asbestos material is in good condition and if it is not being disturbed, then it will not release asbestos fibers. The safest and least costly option may be to leave the asbestos material alone.
Sometimes, asbestos materials can be repaired. If the asbestos material has minimal damage, it may be repaired with a special coating called encapsulant. Check with your hardware store or a safety supply store for materials to repair or encapsulate asbestos.
Removing the asbestos material may be the best option if the asbestos material is extensively damaged or if it will be disturbed by renovation or other activities.
MDH strongly recommends using a Minnesota licensed asbestos contractor to remove asbestos. Licensed contractors use equipment and techniques that are unavailable to homeowners, so the asbestos is handled safely. They also perform air monitoring to see if the air in your home meets acceptable safety standards during and at the end of the project.
What if I'm buying or selling a house that may contain asbestos?
If you are buying or selling a house that may contain asbestos, make sure the house has been inspected for asbestos. Many housing inspectors will not check for asbestos products. Some items to consider during buying and selling a house are:
- Has an asbestos inspection been performed?
- Who will hire the asbestos inspector?
- How will the costs and the results of the inspection be shared?
- Will the material be repaired or removed, and how will those costs be shared?
How do I find out more information?
For more information about asbestos, contact the Asbestos Program at MDH through the internet or by telephone at (651) 201-4620.
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