Saturday, May 30, 2015

Before scraping off a 'cottage cheese' ceiling, get it checked

Asbestos is often found in plaster and other building materials, which pose a risk if damaged or disturbed.

When we were kids, my brothers and I would play a game in which we jumped on our beds to see who could knock off the most plaster from the bedroom ceiling. Like many homes built more than 50 years ago, our home had ceilings of rough plaster, or "cottage cheese."
Today, many homeowners are scraping off this plaster to modernize their homes. It's difficult, messy and fatiguing. It may also be hazardous: In some homes, this plaster contains asbestos, a dangerous material that has been linked to cancer and other ailments.
If asbestos fibers are inhaled into the lungs, they can cause severe scarring and, in some cases, cancer. People exposed to large amounts of asbestos have an increased risk of developing lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer involving the thin membrane that surrounds the lungs and other internal organs. Exposure to asbestos has also been found to cause extensive scarring of the lung tissue, a condition known as asbestosis.
It typically takes prolonged exposure to high levels of asbestos fibers to develop lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. Although most experts do not believe that prolonged exposure to small amounts -- and even large one-time exposure -- is likely to cause significant health problems, everyone agrees that minimizing exposure is prudent. "No safe level of exposure to asbestos has been established," says Patricia Maravilla, an environmental protection specialist with the Environmental Protection Agency's asbestos program.
Unfortunately, there is no way to escape asbestos completely. Asbestos fibers are released constantly into the air from natural deposits in soil or rock. The fibers are also released from the surface of manufactured asbestos products as they wear down. In rural areas, every cubic meter of outdoor air contains approximately 10 asbestos fibers; in urban areas like Los Angeles, the levels are estimated to be about 10 times higher.
However, it's indoor air that concerns most people. They worry about asbestos in their homes or want to know whether they should have it removed. "Just because you have it [in the home] doesn't necessarily mean that it poses a health risk," says Maravilla. It depends principally on the condition of the asbestos-containing material.
"Cottage cheese" ceilings are only one of many places that asbestos can be found in a home. It also may be contained in a wide variety of building materials, including roofing and siding shingles, floor tiles and insulation.
Although materials that are in good repair will not typically release fibers, they may do so if they are damaged or disturbed. That's why it's generally best not to disturb any material that contains asbestos and that is in good condition. (Be aware that you cannot tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it. If you are unsure, don't disturb it, or have a sample analyzed for asbestos). Listings of certified asbestos consultants are available at the California Department of Industrial Relations' Web site at, then click on "databases." Known asbestos-containing material should be inspected regularly for signs of damage.
If you discover a problem, call an asbestos professional to handle it. (A listing of registered asbestos contractors can be found on the above Web site.)
In some cases, it may only be necessary to repair damaged areas. A sealant, for example, can sometimes be used to encapsulate the fibers, or an airtight enclosure can be placed over or around them. In other cases, the best course is to remove the material entirely. Keep in mind, however, that disturbing asbestos poses the greatest risk of releasing fibers and may not be a safe course if the job is performed improperly. In fact, improper removal can create a hazard where none existed before.
Steps are being taken to help reduce exposure to asbestos, and asbestos consumption has dropped by 90% in the last 20 years. Recently, an EPA-funded panel recommended a ban on all production, distribution and imports of asbestos, and legislation to ban asbestos was introduced in the U.S. House and Senate last month.
"Cottage cheese" ceilings appear to be facing a similar fate. Just recently, the curds were removed from the ceiling of my childhood home. Before the ceiling could be stripped, however, samples were taken and tested for asbestos. My brothers and I breathed a collective sigh of relief when the report came back negative.
Dr. Valerie Ulene is a board-certified specialist in preventive medicine practicing in Los Angeles. Our Health appears the first Monday of the month.

Guide to Identifying Asbestos Cement Transite Water Pipes & their Hazards in buildings

Photograph of  transite asbestos heating flueGuide to Identifying Asbestos Cement Transite Water Pipes & their Hazards in buildings

  • TRANSITE WATER PIPES - CONTENTS: Asbestos-containing transite water pipes - is there a health hazard from drinking water that is delivered through cement asbestos water pipes?Vinyl-lined Transite Asbestos Pipe Hazards. Practical Hazards & Risks of Transite Water Supply Piping Mains. Safety hazards associated with transite pipe cement asbestos materials in buildings. How to recognize asbestos transite pipe materials in building chimneys, air ducts, water pipes

Transite Asbestos Cement Pipes: this article assists in the recognition of transite pipe used for water pipes, and discusses potential hazards of this material when it is found in buildings. Transite pipe is an asbestos-cement product which was used for both HVAC ducts and for chimney or flue material to vent gas-fired appliances as well as for water piping in some communities.
This article explains the potential health hazards (asbestos exposure by ingestion) as well as practical problems (fragility, collapse, expense of replacement) of cement asbestos transite pipe water piping and we provide citations to authoritative studies of this question. This document assists building buyers, owners or inspectors who need to identify asbestos materials (or probable-asbestos) in buildings by simple visual inspection. 
We provide photographs and descriptive text of asbestos insulation and other asbestos-containing products to permit identification of definite, probable, or possible asbestos materials in buildings.

Guide to Health Hazards of Transite Pipe Cement-asbestos Water Piping

Transite pipe or asbestos-cement pipes were used for water supply systems in some municipalities up into the 1970's in the U.S. and probably in other countries. In some cities (Ellwood PA for example), the transite water mains were found to be unable to reliably withstand high water pressures (up to 225 psi in Ellwood according to one of our readers) and the pipes were easily broken.
Asbestos fibers may be ingested from water supplied through transite water piping. Transite piping deteriorates over time, releasing asbestos fibers from the interior of the pipe into the drinking water flowing through that conduit. The level of health risk from ingested asbestos fibers is uncertain and probably low. An NIH report prepared by industry experts concluded:
The work group believes that the cancer risk associated with asbestos ingestion should not be perceived as one of the most pressing potential public health hazards facing the nation.
However, the work group does not believe that information was sufficient to assess the level of cancer risk associated with the ingestion and therefore, this potential hazard should not be discounted, and ingestion exposure to asbestos should be eliminated whenever possible.
Another study by Millette JR et als reported
Cancer mortality for the population census tracts of Escambia County, FL, which use asbestos-cement (AC) pipe for public potable water distribution, was compared with cancer mortality data collected from census tracts in the same county where other types of piping materials are used. An analysis of covariance was run to test for differences in standard mortality ratios for seven cancer sites among three potential asbestos exposure groups based on AC pipe usage.
Twelve variables representing nonexposure-related influences on disease rates were combined in four independent factors and used as covariates in these analyses.
No evidence for an association between the use of AC pipe for carrying drinking water and deaths due to gastrointestinal and related cancers was found. The limitations on the sensitivity of the analysis are discussed.
Also see:
  • ASBESTOS DUCTS, HVAC - Guide to Identification of Asbestos Materials On or In Heating and Cooling Duct Work: carbon monoxide hazards of transite chimneys and vents
  • TRANSITE PIPE AIR DUCTS - Hazards of Asbestos-containing Transite Pipe HVAC Ducts: duct collapse, mold, radon, asbestos fiber release
  • TRANSITE PIPE CHIMNEYS & FLUES - Guide to Identifying Asbestos Transite Chimneys & Flues & their Hazards in buildings
  • TRANSITE PIPE WATER SUPPLY PIPING - Guide to Identifying Asbestos Cement Transite Water Pipes & their Hazards in buildings
While an expert lab test using polarized light microscopy may be needed to identify the specific type of asbestos fiber, or to identify the presence of asbestos in air dust or water samples, many asbestos-containing building products not only are obvious and easy to recognize, but since there were not other look-alike products that were not asbestos, a visual identification of this material can be virtually a certainty in many cases. Links to U.S. government and other authoritative research and advice are included.

Vinyl-lined Transite Asbestos Pipe Hazards

A more immediate water quality hazard has been detected in some vinyl-lined transite water pipes - Tetrachloroethylene. A report on the Sandwich water district on Cape Cod in Massachusetts reported that
"PCE was detected in the distribution system at an annual average of 0.8 parts per billion, which is below the limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This substance leaches into the water from vinyl lined transite water pipe. In order to address this problem, in 2002 approximately 8,500 feet of water mains were sealed with an epoxy coating resulting in a dramatic decrease in PCE levels. "

Practical Hazards & Risks of Transite Water Supply Piping Mains

Leaks in transite water supply piping underground can result in substantial water losses in districts where this piping was used.
Locating transite water supply mains: We've been informed that excavators complain that its lack of metal makes locating transite water pipes difficult - one cannot use ordinary metal detectors.
Of course a buried pipe of non-metallic material might be located if it is possible to insert a sending probe inside its length but on a water main this procedure is impractical. Contractors joke that they find transite pipe by using the metal bucket of a backhoe as a pipe detector.
Replacement costs for transite water supply piping: because of its age, leaks, fragility, and difficulty of finding transite cement asbestos water supply mains and water piping without also damaging it at the same time, owners of properties and communities served by cement asbestos water pipes (transite) can expect to face increasing costs to replace that piping.
Asbestos fiber release hazards during removal of demolition of transite piping are discussed
Incorrect spellings of transite piping or transite duct material that we've seen include transit pipe, transit ducts, Transide pipe, transide ducts, tranisite pipe, and transight pipe. "Transite" is the correct spelling.

HVAC boot cleared of Asbestos in Los Angeles