Asbestos, a form of magnesium silicate, is a mineral compound once highly regarded for its incredibly effective insulating ability and its resistance to damage from chemicals and heat, including fire.
There was a time when the protective clothing worn by firemen was made from asbestos fabric. The remarkable flame-retardant properties of this mineral were appreciated even in the days of ancient Greece, where it got its name. In ancient Greek, asbestos means inextinguishable.
Asbestos shingles, siding, roofing, and insulation materials were widely used in homes, public buildings, and commercial facilities. Electrical and heating appliances were often insulated with asbestos and many automotive parts included asbestos as a component. Many other industries relied on asbestos as well.
Unfortunately, asbestos crystals can easily lodge in the lungs, where it stays forever. The scar tissue that results leads to crippling, often deadly illnesses, such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and another form of cancer called mesothelioma.
The extremely hazardous nature of the mineral led to the ban on its use in the United States in the 1970s. Since that time, no more asbestos-containing products could be manufactured or used but the asbestos-containing building materials already installed were allowed to remain in place.
In most cases, a home built with asbestos shingles, siding, or roofing materials is safe as long as these products are in good repair. Problems arise, however, when cracks, tears, and other types of damage expose the asbestos particles to the atmosphere.
Even when these products are in good repair, many of today’s homeowners are opting to remodel their homes instead of buy new ones. One popular remodel option is to replace asbestos shingles with more modern-looking materials.
Handling, repairing, and removing asbestos shingles and other building materials can be hazardous to the health of the person doing the work, anyone else in the building, and, due to the easily airborne nature of the dangerous fibers, anyone in the neighborhood is at risk, too.
Because special handling procedures must be followed for optimum safety, working in any way with asbestos shingles, siding, roofing, or other materials is best left to professionals trained to handle these dangerous products. This type of home repair or maintenance should never be considered a do-it-yourself project.