How to Define If There's Asbestos in Plaster
How to Identify Asbestos in Plaster
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber commonly used in many building products through the late 1980’s. One such building product is the decorative plaster used on many ceilings and walls during the relevant period. Asbestos has been linked to multiple health problems, including a type of cancer called mesothelioma. If the plaster breaks or dries out with age, it can release this respiratory hazard. There is no surefire way to identify asbestos by appearance, but you can send a sample to a testing laboratory for an affordable price.
Checking for Warning Signs
Know your dates.Most types of asbestos-containing plaster were manufactured between 1942 and 1974.If your house was built or renovated during that time, it's a good idea to have it tested. That said, asbestos was used in stucco and drywall as early as 1910, and use continued at a slower rate until at least the early 1980's.Asbestos is even used in some building materials today, but the risk is fairly low if your house was built in the 1990's or later.
- These dates are most accurate in the United States. In some other industrialized countries, significant asbestos use continued until about 2000. Don't rely on a hard cutoff date, since bans on manufacturing sometimes allowed companies to use up their existing supply.
Be wary of popcorn ceilings.These textured plaster ceiling coatings were a common use of asbestos, especially (but not exclusively) between the 1950's and 1970's.It's worth testing these ceilings if they are getting old and crumbling, or if you plan on doing nearby renovations that could disturb the area and release dust.
Look for signs of damage.Even if the plaster does contain asbestos, this is not a health risk as long as it is in good condition. If you see crumbling, cracks, or water damage, or if the plaster has been sawed, scraped, or sanded, it may be releasing asbestos fibers.If the plaster is undamaged, it's usually best to leave it alone. Check periodically and take a sample only if damage appears later.
Collecting Samples for Testing
Hire a professional inspector whenever possible.Without professional training, it is easy to make mistakes in respirator fitting or dust removal that can risk the health of your household. Although rare, there are cases where short-term exposure has caused asbestos-related cancer decades in the future.Country, state, and local laws may also require you to hire a professional, especially for shared buildings and work spaces.
- Before hiring an asbestos inspector, ask for documents proving they have been trained and approved in asbestos work by government agencies.
- To avoid a conflict of interest, stay away from inspectors who work for an asbestos removal firm.
- To find out more about legal requirements, contact your local or state department of health or environmental protection.
Seal off the area.Taking a sample can release dangerous asbestos fibers into the air. Whether you are doing this yourself or hiring an inspector, make sure the following precautions are taken:
- Turn off heating and cooling units.
- Close windows and doors.
- Tape a plastic sheet on the floor under the area you'll be sampling, and over open doorways and other large openings.
- Prevent others from entering the room while you work.
Put on a respirator.Asbestos fibers are extremely fine and can easily be inhaled without noticing, which can later lead to lung diseases. To protect yourself, wear a well-fitting respirator rated at least N-100, P-100, or R-100, or one equipped with purple HEPA filtered cartridges.A disposable dust mask will not protect you.
- If you have facial hair that interferes with a tight fit, you may need a powered, positive-pressure respirator.
Wear other safety equipment.Asbestos is most dangerous when inhaled, but it can also cause cuts or "asbestos warts" if it reaches your skin. More importantly, fibers can cling to clothes and spread the danger of inhalation to other areas. Protect yourself before you get started:
- Wear gloves you don't mind throwing away. Durable work gloves are ideal, but you can use powder-free disposable gloves.
- Wear safety glasses if taking a sample from above you, to protect against falling debris.
- Disposable coveralls with built-in footwear are ideal, especially if you are sampling a large area. You can wear old clothes instead and throw them away afterward.
Decide where to take samples.The test will be more reliable if you take several samples from different areas. You can ask an asbestos testing laboratory how many samples they prefer, or follow these rules of thumb:
- Up to 90 m2(1,000 ft2) of plaster: Collect three samples.
- 90 to 450 m2(1,000 to 5,000 ft2): Collect five samples.
- Over 450 m2(5,000 ft2): Collect seven samples.
- If there are multiple layers of material, or if plaster in different areas looks different or was installed at different times, treat them as separate materials and sample each one using these guidelines.
Dampen the plaster.Fill a hand sprayer with water and a few drops of detergent. Spray this over an area of plaster. Wet plaster will release fewer asbestos fibers.
Remove a sample of the plaster.Cut down through the entire depth of the plaster material with any sharp knife or tool. Remove at least a 2.5 x 2.5 cm (1" x 1") square of the plaster. Try not to break the material into small pieces.
- It's a good idea to contact the testing laboratory first, as some prefer larger samples.
- For popcorn ceiling coats and other friable material (anything that crumbles apart when you cut it), scrape off about 5 mL (1 tsp).
Double bag the sample.Place the sample in a clean high quality zip lock bag or plastic container, then place that inside a second bag. Label the container with the date and the place where you took the sample (e.g. "hallway ceiling north end").
Patch the hole with duct tape.Use the smallest piece of tape possible to cover the hole.This minimizes the amount of fibers released from the cut edge.
Clean up the area.Carefully fold up the plastic drop sheet. Thoroughly clean the floor and the area around the sample with wet rags and sponges, or with a HEPA vacuum cleaner.Wipe the outside of the sample container with a wet rag.
- Never use a regular vacuum cleaner.
- Asbestos fibers can float in the air for hours.Minimize your use of that room for the rest of the day, and consider an additional mopping or HEPA vacuuming at the end of the day.
Throw away contaminated materials.Before leaving the area, put your plastic sheet, cleaning rags, gloves, and outer layer of clothing, including footwear, into sealed, heavy-duty plastic bags.If it turns out your plaster does contain asbestos, deliver these bags to a landfill that accepts asbestos-containing waste.Asbestos is banned from regular trash collection in many areas.
Wash skin and non-disposable equipment.Do this before leaving the work area if possible, to minimize the chance of tracking asbestos with you.
Having the Samples Tested
Locate an asbestos testing lab near you.There are several ways to find an asbestos testing laboratory to test your sample:
- The U.S. Department of Commerce has established a voluntary accreditation program for asbestos testing labs, and provides a of the labs who have become accredited. Labs are listed by state and listings include links to the labs’ websites.
- Check out some well known international labs, such as the International Asbestos Testing Laboratory or .
- Many labs offer testing for non-local residents, through Federal Express (“FedEx”), United Parcel Service (“UPS”), or United States Postal Service (“USPS”). Just run a search at your favorite search engine for “asbestos testing”.
- Check the yellow pages for "Laboratories — Analytical."
Get quotes from multiple labs.Asbestos testing is cheap as lab tests go. You can typically get three samples tested for under 0 USD.
Follow the instructions on the lab’s website for sample submission.Most companies have a submission form for you to complete and mail or bring in with your sample. Print and complete the form and send with your sample and payment to the address listed for sample submission.
Decide what to do next.If it turns out the plaster does contain asbestos, and it is not in good condition, hire an asbestos contractor to handle it. You can either have the plaster removed completely, or seal it underneath a protective coating that traps the asbestos fibers.
- Make sure the contractor is government accredited. Your local or state health board may be able to provide a list of accredited organizations.
- Trying this yourself is not recommended. If you're set on the idea, make sure to comply with legal requirements in your area.
Confirm the area is safe.After the job is done, you can hire an asbestos inspector or air testing contractor to confirm the asbestos was successfully handled without releasing asbestos into the air.
QuestionWhat do I do if I have to have a repair a plaster ceiling and it is full of asbestos?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerHire a professional to evaluate the risk and recommend a course of action. If the plaster is less than one inch thick, you can probably have a contractor "encapsulate" it, sealing it underneath a protective material or a new dropped ceiling. In other cases, you may need to hire the contractor to remove the whole ceiling.Thanks!
QuestionMy home was built in the late 1800's. Do you think the plaster contains asbestos?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt quite possibly could. Any house built before the 1970s when asbestos started being regulated could contain asbestos. If you really want to find out, take a sample and send it to a lab for testing.Thanks!
What are the chances of becoming ill after limited exposure?
- Your lab report may use the abbreviation "RL" for "Reporting Limit". If asbestos levels are below RL, it is considered safe.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) does not recommend that you remove samples for testing yourself, but that you hire a trained and certified asbestos inspector to remove and test samples for you.
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