As a homeowner and DIYer I understand the feeling of pride that comes with performing home renovations by yourself. But a responsible homeowner has to realize that some jobs are best left to professionals. Asbestos popcorn ceiling removal is one of those jobs.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is essentially fibrous rock that occurs in the ground naturally, even here in Alaska. Its physical properties include heat resistance, chemical resistance, binding abilities, and acoustic sound dampening, making it an ideal building material. However, the physical properties of asbestos also allows it to easily contaminate the air within our home when disturbed and this contamination will readily spread throughout the home and may persist almost indefinitely.
Why are Asbestos Fibers something to be concerned about?
People are amazed when they hear a single asbestos fiber can have a diameter as small as 0.1 micron. To put this size into perspective, a human hair is 1,000 times thicker, a hypodermic needle (30 gauge) is 3,000 times thicker, the nucleus of the average human cell is 100 times greater – 100 times! This all means when we inhale fibers into our lungs they have the ability penetrate like super sharp needles and are even able to migrate throughout our lungs and into other organs. And they are chemically resistant, so our immune system and our body will never be able to break them down. Once they get in, they are in for life.
How long an asbestos fiber can remain in the air is perhaps the property that amazes me the most. It is said an individual fiber, when released at ceiling height in a room with a nine-foot ceiling and with no airflow, can remain airborne for up to 80 hours! When you have something this light it acts more like a gas than a solid particulate and it will be influenced by the most subtle of air currents. Even when walking through an area, asbestos fibers can get trapped in the eddies created by our body and follow us to other, previously uncontaminated areas. When you have something as light as asbestos released in a home the fibers are not simply going to settle out of the air; a fiber release can contaminate the air in the house for a very, very long time – perhaps years and even decades.
What can you do as a DIY Homeowner?
Even if someone were to take the time to cover and tape plastic sheeting over all the surfaces in the work area, and they wet the material when bringing it down, and they wipe up all debris, and only once the area is spotless do they take down the plastic sheeting, they will still be contaminating their home. This is because the average homeowner does not own the special HEPA filtered air handling devices that are needed to address the billions of fibers that are released into the air during disturbances, even when wet methods are used. These machines also create negative pressure by sucking in large volumes of air, and this prevents fibers from escaping to other areas of the home– because as long as air is being sucked in fibers cannot get out. Without HEPA filtered negative air machines to remove these fibers they will remain suspended in the air floating around the homeowner while they wipe all the surfaces to a spotless condition and then when they take down their plastic sheeting thinking everything is clean the fibers make their escape to the rest of the home.
If someone is thinking they can do their own popcorn ceiling removal without the fancy high-priced gadgetry the pros use, they should consider at least testing the containment first. To test this, after they have all of the plastic sheeting in place and before removal starts, they should take a couple pounds of rotten fish filets and place them on a plate exposed to the air in the containment and leave them there for 2 to 3 days. While it is sitting there, they should open and close door flaps occasionally to simulate entering and exiting the work area. If at the end they cannot smell the rotten fish at all anywhere in the house they may have an adequate containment. However, chances are every room in the house is going to reek. If fish odor can get out and contaminate the entire house so can asbestos since they both act like gases.
Although there are no laws or regulations preventing homeowners doing asbestos removal in their own home, I highly recommend professionals are hired to perform this task. This is not just a matter of saving a few bucks, it a matter of protecting ourselves and our loved ones.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact the asbestos experts at EMI at 907-272-9336.
Written by Glenn Hasburgh, Environmental Scientist/H&S Instructor