Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has historically been used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant.
Asbestos has been known to man for centuries. The ancient Greeks used asbestos in their cloth and Romans used it in their building materials. In the United States, asbestos became popular in the early 1900s because it is strong, insulates well, and resists fire and corrosion. During the 1960s, evidence emerged indicating that asbestos fibers were a dangerous health hazard and by the 1970s the federal government began to take action by instituting laws and regulations about the use, abatement and disposal of asbestos. Today, asbestos is most commonly found in older homes in the pipe and furnace insulation material, siding, shingles, millboard, and floor tile.
Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur after materials containing asbestos are disturbed by cutting, sanding or other remodeling activities. Improper attempts to remove these materials can release asbestos fibers into the air in homes, increasing asbestos levels and endangering people living in those homes.
The most dangerous asbestos fibers are too small to be visible. After they are inhaled, they can remain and accumulate in the lungs. Asbestos can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma (a cancer of the chest and abdominal linings), and asbestosis (irreversible lung scarring that can be fatal). Symptoms of these diseases do not show up until many years after exposure.
Do not panic if you think you have asbestos in your home. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fiber. There is no danger unless fibers are released and inhaled into the lungs. Do not remove, cut, rip, or sand asbestos-containing materials!
Property owners in Massachusetts are obligated by law to maintain all asbestos material in good repair and free from any defects including, but not limited to: holes, cracks, tears or any looseness that may allow the release of asbestos dust, or any powdered, crumbled or pulverized asbestos material. Abatement of asbestos in Massachusetts is strictly regulated and must be conducted by a licensed asbestos removal contractor. All abatement must be in accordance with the regulations of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) appearing at 310 CMR 7 and in accordance with the regulations of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DLWD) appearing at 453 CMR 6 and with any other applicable statutes and regulations. Property owners who conduct unauthorized asbestos removal are subject to large fines from state and federal departments.
In some cases, property owners can handle asbestos siding, roofing and tiles. However, even in this case, DEP notification and authorization is required before beginning any work and DEP guidelines must be strictly followed.
You can find information about licensing, notification, laws, regulations, and health through the following links.
- Department of Environmental Protection: state and federal regulations and general information
- Division of Occupational Safety: asbestos in schools, occupational exposure, licensing, certification, applications, and forms
- Environmental Protection Agency: general information, vermiculite, asbestos in your home, and resources