Is Asbestos Exterior Safe?

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Damaged, asbestos-containing exterior materials should never be touched with bare hands.
Damaged, asbestos-containing exterior materials should never be touched with bare hands. (Image: Weathered Red shingle siding on the side of a barn image by Jim Mills from Fotolia.com)

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asbestos that is limited to the exterior parts of your home, such as cement roofing, shingles and siding, is safe as long as it is not cut, sawed or drilled, which can release the asbestos fibers into the air.

Asbestos and the Home

Banned in the U.S. in 1977 for its health risks to the lungs, asbestos is a mineral fiber that is most often used for its insulation, construction and fire resistant properties. As an exterior building material, asbestos was used primarily in home construction between 1930 and 1950 and as a roofing and siding shingle material through the late 1970s.

Detecting Asbestos

If asbestos is detected in the exterior materials of your home, the EPA recommends leaving it alone unless it is disturbed. However, you should examine your cement roofing, siding and shingles for abrasions, tears and water damage regularly. If you come across a damaged shingle, roofing component or siding, you should not touch the material with your bare hands. You should also limit any access to the area and discard any items that touched the damaged material, such as hand gloves or tarps. The only way to determine if asbestos is present in the damaged component is to hire a professional to take a fiber sample, which must be read in a laboratory.

Repair and Removal of Existing Damage

If your damaged roof, siding or shingles contain asbestos fibers, the health risks associated with asbestos, such as lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis may arise from prolonged inhalation. To mitigate the problem, you will need to repair or remove the asbestos-containing material as soon as possible. In the U.S., removing asbestos yourself is illegal and poses a great health threat to you, your family and your neighbors. The website ThisOldHouse.com warns that encapsulation and other repair procedures, such as painting exterior tiles with latex, can be performed by skillful homeowners, but the actual removal of asbestos material should only be performed by a certified contractor.

Cleanup Safety Precautions

According to the EPA, exposed asbestos fibers should never be vacuumed with a regular vacuum cleaner, dusted or swept into air, although HEPA, or high efficiency particulate air vacuum cleaners or wet mops may be used by your contractor. You should also ensure that your contractor disposes of all asbestos materials into leak-proofed, sealed plastic bags. For a link to your area's Regional Asbestos EPA office, which can help you contact a certified asbestos-removal contractor, see Resources.

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