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Protecting your family from asbestos dangers

Most people think asbestos is a thing of the past -- they don't realize that it is still in use today in many industries. Contractors of all sorts often encounter it in old homes that are being purchased for remodel and sale.

Most of the time, you can't tell if there's asbestos in something just by looking at it. Asbestos was used in all sorts of construction materials, from insulation to tiles -- and it's largely safe until it begins to crumble and release its tiny fibers into the air.

With that in mind, here are some important tips to follow before you go looking for asbestos in a home or other building:

When you inspect it, take precautions

You need to cover your eyes, mouth and nose with goggles and a respirator that is effective against asbestos exposure. An ordinary face mask will not work. Your clothing should be entirely covered with disposable garb or destroyed after the task.

If you can, leave it alone

If you suspect that the insulation around the basement pipes may contain asbestos or the tile on the kitchen floor may have asbestos backing, the best thing to do is leave it where it is as long as it is intact. As long as it isn't crumbling, that's the safest course of action.

If you must remodel, get a professional evaluation

You need to take samples of the material for analysis to determine if there really is asbestos involved -- but don't do the sampling yourself. You could accidentally release fibers into the air in the process. Get a certified asbestos removal specialist to take the sample.

Have it properly removed and disposed of safely

Again, this is one job that is never a "Do-It-Yourself" type of activity, no matter how handy you are. It's far too dangerous to handle the materials on your own, and they must be disposed of in a careful and legal manner. Hire a specialist for the job.

Remember, it can take years for an asbestos-related illness to develop, so do everything you can to limit your exposure.

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