Most people assume a property built after the late 1970s won’t have any asbestos present. While this is the most likely scenario, it is still possible to have asbestos in a home built after that time period. Many will be stunned by this revelation because they assume that asbestos was fully “banned” in the United States (it’s not!).
The asbestos “ban” which many believe outlawed asbestos usage refers to the banned uses under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This rule banned specific uses of asbestos such as pipe insulation, spray on asbestos, flooring felt, and corrugated paper. Also, asbestos cannot be used for any new material purposes. While this does outlaw many of the most friable asbestos-containing materials, many products are technically still allowed to contain it. Most of these allowable uses are not in products found in a home or office. But what about products imported from other countries?
The materials most likely to contain asbestos in a newer home are vinyl floor tiles and it’s associated adhesive, commonly referred to as “mastic”. Tiles can potentially be imported from another country that may have different asbestos regulations. These materials are able to enter the country if they are less than 1% asbestos. China, Russia, and up until recently Brazil continue to produce asbestos-containing products. Another common material that may potentially contain asbestos in a modern home is drywall tape and joint compound. This material blends the drywall sheets together and if positive, the entire drywall must be treated as an asbestos-containing material.
Little Asbestos, Big Risks
While the heyday of asbestos production has come and gone, its usage has not. While many imported products contain less than 1% asbestos, disturbing large quantities of this trace amount can still cause health risks. Since the partial asbestos “ban” in the 1970s, mesothelioma still remains a public health concern. While it is most likely that your modern home or building will not contain asbestos, it is imperative to have building materials tested before renovation or demolition activities, especially in public buildings.
While I worked as a polarized light microscopist analyzing asbestos samples I encountered a modern asbestos-containing material. I analyzed a sample of drywall which contained a rare asbestos mineral called Tremolite. The client called our lab and was furious about the result and stated that the drywall was installed a decade prior and demanded that the sample be reanalyzed. Our entire microscopy team reanalyzed the sample and came back with the same result. The result was reported while the renovating activity had already begun.