Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings

Popcorn ceilings were in fashion from the late 1950s through the early 1980s.  No one seems to be really sure why popcorn ceilings seemed to become so trendy.  Suspected reasons for their popularity include the fact that they were easy to apply, they covered up imperfections in a ceiling, and they were acoustically helpful to reduce noise.  One of the biggest drawbacks to the ceilings was how to clean them.  Precisely because of the design that made them so popular, they did not present a smooth surface that was easy to clean.  Popcorn ceilings almost always contained asbestos, and, as we know now, asbestos can be a dangerous and toxic substance.

Recent Asbestos Events in the News

An apartment complex in Mountain View, California, is scheduled to have their popcorn ceiling asbestos removed.  The landlord of the complex, however, didn’t give his tenants sufficient notice that they needed to evacuate.  Improper roofing repairs two years ago led to an asbestos “leak.”  The removal process for some tenants will take two to three weeks, and they will need to vacate the premises for that time.  They want to leave before asbestos removal, but they are furious that they were not given enough notice or time to make plans and preparations for evacuating from their residence.

Asbestos remains in the current news as more and varied sites and instances of exposure are found and dealt with.  Two sites in Massachusetts, for example, have made headlines.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is assisting in an asbestos contaminated soil clean-up on a bike trail path, which was a former W.R. Grace & Co. site.  This site used vermiculite which was contaminated with asbestos.  As well, two Massachusetts companies are currently in court regarding accusations of illegal asbestos dumping.  The accusation also states that the companies knew asbestos was present and failed to report the occurrence to the proper authorities.

Examples of Potential Asbestos Issues

So many problems stem from the fact that people are unaware of the products and fixtures in their homes that may contain asbestos.  They don’t know when they start a remodeling venture that they have to be wary of disturbing asbestos.

A homeowner removed popcorn ceilings from two rooms in his home, and he didn’t follow any of the recommended procedures or consult a professional because he didn’t know there was asbestos present in his popcorn ceiling.  They scraped the ceiling texture off and a lot of dust was noticeable.  Now the homeowner is concerned about asbestos fibers having been inhaled into his lungs.  The result from this news article was that the homeowner was advised to hire a qualified asbestos inspector to take air samples from the home, including samples from furniture and carpets, and test them to see if the home was contaminated.

Unfortunately, even if air and furniture samples are taken and contamination is present, there is no clear way to ascertain if you or your loved ones have inhaled the potentially deadly substance, or if, in fact, it will affect you years down the road.  The worst cases, however, usually involve being around the substance for a prolonged period of time and/or handling asbestos through manufacturing or construction processes.

How To Assess Asbestos Contamination and Get Help For It

Attempting to remove the popcorn ceiling from your home can be dangerous.  You should first have the material tested for asbestos by a licensed and certified inspector.  If you attempt to remove the popcorn ceiling on your own and put another type of layering on your ceiling, such as paint, it could be risky and prove damaging to your health.

One of the problems with asbestos is when it becomes unstable, or friable, is the time it is the most dangerous.  When asbestos is removed in the wrong way, it can break apart and release asbestos fibers and dust particulates into the air.  These particulates can then get inhaled into your lungs and cause scarring or worse.  Your lung capacity can eventually decrease and deadly cancerous mesothelioma can occur.  Mesothelioma is a very aggressive form of cancer than often goes undetected for as long as two decades.  If you do find out you have it, unfortunately, most of the time, it is too late and too difficult to treat and can be fatal.  Even just a few days of breathing in the fibers is enough to cause you grave concern in later years.

Every precaution should be taken and, when possible, have a certified professional remove your popcorn ceiling.  Not every popcorn ceiling contains asbestos, but the likelihood is great that it might, and you don’t want to take any unnecessary risks.

Laws and Regulations Governing Asbestos Use and Production

It sounds hard to believe but asbestos is still in use today in some products.  After everything we have learned about the health hazards that the substance exposes us to, why would we continue to use it?  And, yet, some of its properties seemingly make it invaluable in some products.  Forty countries have banned its use entirely, but not the United States or Canada.

Many laws and regulations have been put in place to protect against its possible health hazards.  For example, asbestos workers must be specially trained how to handle the dangerous substance to best protect all those working with it or dealing with its removal.  Written exams must be taken and passed before a certification is given to an asbestos worker.

Proper procedures for handling asbestos include:

  • Wetting the substance down before beginning to work with it to keep the chances low of spreading dust;
  • Handling and moving parts and pieces extremely gently so as to minimally disturb the substance as much as possible; 
  • Ensuring that all tools and equipment used in the removal process are washed and cleaned thoroughly before removing from the work site.

As far as asbestos is concerned on a global scale, Asia is the newest continent most at risk for asbestos contamination and health hazards.  No regulations are currently in place in Asia to oversee the use of the toxic substance.  Rapid economic growth in Asian countries is said to be responsible for the great onslaught of asbestos materials in use.

Get Help

Asbestos is a dangerous and toxic substance that permeated the famous popcorn ceilings of the middle of the 20th Century.  If your home contains a popcorn ceiling, chances are it has asbestos in it.  A wise decision on your part would be to have a certified asbestos inspector take a look at it before you decide on any renovation measures.  If you want to remove the ceiling entirely, let a professional take on the job.

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