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Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring rock found primarily in Canada and California. In fact, California's state rock is The Serpentine Rock which is a form of asbestos. This was particularly important during the gold rush because the blue/green color of the rock was always found adjacent to a layer of gold found during mining.  Asbestos was most commonly used as chemical/fire protection in commercial settings and shipbuilding efforts during WWI & WWII.  After the war efforts, new uses for asbestos were found to be helpful as binding agents in building materials such as stucco, drywall joint compound, plaster, roofing materials, underground utility pipes, acoustic ceiling texture, and more!

Why is Asbestos Dangerous?

Asbestos is dangerous when disturbed and rendered airborne. The fibers of asbestos are less than 5 microns in size. These fibers are particularly dangerous to the respiratory system. Once inhaled the fibers work their way into the lungs and become lodged in the pleural sac around the lungs. Because asbestos is technically a rock, our bodies cannot break down these fibers in the lungs.  Once the body has started to release white blood cells to try and break down the fibers, it continually releases more, encapsulating the fiber in white blood cells.  These cells become hard and encase the fiber because they cannot break them down. Over time with extended periods of exposure these issues lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis of the lungs. 

What Causes Asbestos in a House?

Asbestos was used in building materials from the early 1900s all the way through the perceived "ban" of 1978.  It is commonly mistaken that asbestos was no longer allowed to be used in building materials after that point; however, the ban simply disallowed the creation of new uses of asbestos and banned its use in state, federal, and school buildings.  Contractors were allowed to continue using the materials left of their stock. It is not uncommon to find asbestos in building materials installed as late as the early 2000s! Trillions of tons of asbestos were used in the construction industry, and some uses of asbestos are still allowed today!

How Do I Know if My Property has Asbestos?

The only way to know if you have asbestos is to enlist the services of a certified asbestos consultant to inspect and sample your property.  These samples must be analyzed utilizing Polarized Light Microscopy to determine the level of asbestos. Additionally, if the level of asbestos is found to be "trace" or <1% further analysis is required by law to determine the actual level of asbestos. This analysis is known as the 1000-point count method.  Polarized Light Microscopy is accurate only to 10% so any levels detected below that are the laboratory's best guess. The 1000-point count method is accurate to <0.1% leading to more accurate results. This analysis can be very costly, which is why it is primarily only used when trace amounts are detected.

Should I Have My Property Tested for Asbestos?

No matter the age of the structure, here in Southern California it is required by South Coast Air Quality Management District's Rule 1403 for all materials to be tested for asbestos prior to ANY renovation or demolition activities. 

If you plan to do any renovation or demolition activities on your property, we advise that you contact an experienced and certified asbestos consultant. The contact number of a reputable and experienced consultant is at the bottom of this page!

How Do I Get Rid of Asbestos?

Asbestos must be removed by a certified asbestos abatement contractor; however, the homeowner is allowed to remove up to 100 square feet of asbestos a year on their own if they follow the guidelines:

 

Per South Coast AQMD Rule 1403 (PDF)(j)(9): "The provisions of this rule shall not apply to an owner-occupant of a residential single-unit dwelling who personally conducts a renovation activity at that dwelling."

 

The above exemption applies only to a homeowner that personally resides in his house or single-family home. Apartment buildings, townhouses, condominiums, and houses that are used as rental or lease businesses/offices are not “residential single-unit dwellings.” An “owner-occupant” is a house owner that personally resides in the house that is being renovated.

 

A homeowner qualifies for this exemption if:

 

1.      The house is not used as rental property or business

2.      The house is not vacant

3.      The homeowner currently resides in the house

4.      The homeowner's name is on the house deed of trust, and

5.      The homeowner personally performs the renovation - not laborers, friends, or family members.

 

South Coast AQMD does not recommend a homeowner to perform an asbestos removal due to potential asbestos exposure and/or cross-contamination.

 

However, all asbestos-containing waste materials (ACWMs) deposited outside of a homeowner's house as a direct result of any renovation and/or demolition activity performed at this house is subject to all the applicable Rule 1403 requirements for handling, storing, and disposing of asbestos waste.

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