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How to identify asbestos in the home

Asbestos refers to a group of natural minerals that are made up of thin, fibrous crystals. Its heat-resistance and durability made it a desirable ingredient in many products, especially building materials.

Although some uses for asbestos have been prohibited, people may still encounter the substance in older homes. Unfortunately, asbestos can cause someone to develop a serious health condition. Diseases like lung cancer, asbestosis or mesothelioma can develop after any amount of asbestos dust is inhaled or ingested. However, it may take decades after the exposure before someone begins showing symptoms of a related illness.

Can someone tell if their home contains asbestos?

If your home was built during or before the 1980s, there is a good chance that some of the original materials contain asbestos. However, there is no way to reliably tell if a product contains asbestos or not just by looking at it.

If you suspect you have an asbestos-containing product in your home, it may be best to leave it undisturbed to prevent the asbestos particles from being released into the air. However, if the product is deteriorating or disturbed by other activities in the area, it may be worth hiring a trained and licensed professional to test the product for asbestos.

What tests might a professional use?

There are three ways a professional may be able to identify asbestos-containing products, including:

  • Microscopy
  • Handheld Spectroscopy
  • Magnetic Field

Microscopy is the traditional way to test for asbestos, and it remains the most popular testing method. Microscopy involves gathering a sample of the material suspected to contain asbestos and sending that sample to a lab. Once at the lab, each fiber of the sample is examined through a microscope to determine if it is asbestos or not.

A handheld spectroscopy device is another testing option. It can be brought to someone’s home, so that the operator can identify the components of a material right away. It uses the interaction between light and matter to identify the elements that make up a material.

A magnetic field offers another way to identify asbestos-containing products. It uses magnets and lasers to identify asbestos in a product and can detect low concentrations of asbestos in the air.

If a professional does identify asbestos in your home, he or she will likely offer professional recommendations to minimize your risk of exposure. Sometimes, this may involve professional removal. However, other options, like sealing it in, might be more appropriate for your specific situation.

If asbestos is discovered in your home and you feel that you could have been exposed to the substance, it may be worth sharing your concerns with your doctor. Not everyone who encounters asbestos becomes sick, but your doctor can help you create a plan to monitor your health. An asbestos-related disease can be identified as quickly as possible if one should develop.

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