This page was prepared by the City of Jacksonville's Environmental Quality Division (EQD) of the Environmental Resource Management Department with the goal of helping homeowners understand the possible hazards of exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing materials in their home. This page describes asbestos, where it may be found in the home, and possible health effects of exposure to asbestos. Additional information can be obtained by calling EQD at (904) 630-4900.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken several steps to reduce homeowner exposure to asbestos:

In 1973, EPA prohibited the spraying of asbestos-containing materials for insulation, fire protection, and soundproofing.

In 1975, EPA prohibited the use of asbestos for pipe covering if the material was easily crumbled when dry.

In 1990, EPA began a seven year phase out of almost all asbestos-containing products that are used in home construction and repair.

Q: What is asbestos?
A: Asbestos is the name for a group of naturally occurring minerals that separate into very strong, fine fibers. There are several kinds of asbestos, all of which are heat resistant and extremely durable. It is these qualities that made asbestos very useful in industry. At one time, asbestos was considered the perfect construction material. Over three thousand uses for asbestos have been invented, and millions of tons of asbestos containing materials have been installed into our homes and public buildings.

Q: Is asbestos dangerous?
A: If it enters your body, YES!

Q: How is asbestos harmful?
A: To be harmful, asbestos must enter the body. The primary route of exposure is inhalation. Some asbestos materials are friable, meaning the material, when dry, can be crumbled to a powder by hand pressure. The material releases small fibers which can float in the air, and these fibers can be inhaled. You cannot see these fibers, and they are so small that they pass through the filters of normal vacuum cleaners and get back into the air. Once asbestos is inhaled, the fibers can become lodged in the body tissues for a long time, causing various health problems.

Q: Are all products with asbestos a health risk?
A: NO. A health risk exists only when asbestos fibers are released from the material or product in such a manner as to become airborne with the potential to be inhaled. Soft, easily crumbled asbestos-containing material has the greatest potential for asbestos fiber release and therefore has the greatest potential to create health risks.

Q: Do all people exposed to asbestos develop asbestos-related diseases?
A: NO. Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos do not develop any related health problems. Health studies of asbestos workers and others, however, show that the chances of developing serious illnesses are greater after long term exposure to asbestos. Major health problems associated with asbestos exposure are lung cancer, asbestosis (a noncancerous lung disease), and mesothelioma (a cancer of the chest and abdominal lining). Some medical studies have suggested that exposure to asbestos is also responsible for cancers of internal organs including the esophagus, larynx, mouth, stomach, colon and kidney. Asbestos exposure and cigarette smoking together increase the risk of lung cancer more than the risk of cancer produced either by smoking or by working with asbestos alone.

Q: Where was asbestos used?
A: Asbestos was used in a wide variety of products, including household and building materials, such as appliances, ceiling tiles, wall and pipe coverings, floor tiles, wallboard joint compound, window putty, and roofing and siding shingles.

Q: How can I identify asbestos?
A: The only way to positively identify a material for the presence of asbestos is through laboratory analysis. People who frequently work around asbestos (such as plumbers, roofers and flooring contractors, building contractors, or heating and air conditioning contractors) often are able to make a reasonable judgement about whether or not a material contains asbestos based on a visual inspection.

Q: How can I obtain a laboratory analysis?
A: Private laboratories specializing in asbestos can perform this service for a nominal fee. Look for a laboratory displaying NVLAP (National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program ) certification in the yellow pages of the phone book under 'Laboratories'.

Q: What should I do if I find asbestos in my home?
A: If the asbestos containing material is in good condition, don't disturb it. Covering any damaged surfaces of such materials with paint or patching material will provide extra protection against the release of asbestos fibers. There are no federal requirements for removing asbestos-containing material from individual homes. But, if asbestos-containing material in your home is friable, hiring professional help to remove it is highly recommended. A licensed asbestos contractor, who has the expertise and the resources to remove asbestos safely should be used. Improper removal or containment of asbestos-containing materials will cause asbestos fibers to become airborne and possibly hazardous to human health.

Q: Can I do the work myself?
A: YES. In Florida, you can do the work yourself if it is on your private residence. Otherwise, a licensed asbestos contractor must be used.

Q: Are there any special precautions that I must take if I remove asbestos?
A: If you will be removing a material that might contain asbestos, then you should take the following minimum precautions to reduce exposure to asbestos fibers:

1. Thoroughly wet the material and keep it wet during the removal process.
2. Do the least amount of damage to the material possible.
3. Do not sand or scrape vinyl floors. The use of power sanders or dry scraping will break asbestos into tiny fibers that can float in the air and have the potential to contaminate the whole house.
4. Put the removed material into heavy plastic bags for proper disposal.

Q: Where should asbestos-containing waste material be taken for disposal?
A: In some communities, small amounts of asbestos waste can be carried to a hazardous waste collection point for disposal. In Jacksonville, homeowners can call 904/632-8050 for disposal information. Larger quantities must be carried to an approved landfill that accepts asbestos waste.