Removing asbestos in your home is serious business that should only be handled by a professional asbestos abatement company. Most asbestos abatement companies are reputable, but just like any industry, there are always a few bad apples. Bottom line: not only do we need to be vigilant about protecting ourselves from the dangers of asbestos, we also need to be educated about who we’re working with and the appropriate methods for identifying asbestos. We recently came across a story reprinted on the Green Building Elements website that is a cautionary tale about this very subject.

The story, written by Linda Kincaid, highlights the experience of Jim Lee and his interaction with three asbestos abatement companies. When Jim purchased a home, the property inspector noted that panels found in the laundry room might contain asbestos. Concerned for his safety, Jim contacted three separate asbestos remediation companies for estimates that ended up being just over one thousand dollars for the removal of the panels.

So far, this all sounds fine; it is always best to seek a professional asbestos abatement company for any asbestos removal. Improper handling of asbestos material could cause fibers to become airborne — exposing anyone not properly protected in the area to the airborne fibers. The inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to asbestosis, a scarring of the lung tissue that causes difficulty in breathing or worse, mesothelioma, a terminal form of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

Jim’s story takes a different turn, though. Jim decided to reach out to an acquaintance who had previously performed environmental testing for him for an opinion. It was this individual who opened Jim’s eyes to the scam he was about to fall for. When this contact requested a copy of the lab reports about the material, Jim informed them that none of the remediation companies had provided him with any reports. In fact, all three companies claimed they could identify asbestos material just by looking at it.

Some asbestos may be identifiable by appearance, but in most cases the final determination that a material is definitively asbestos is made under a microscope. A certified lab will examine a sample and indicate not only what type of asbestos a person is dealing with, but also what percentage of the material is asbestos. Jim took his own sample of the material, strictly following EPA procedures (it is important to note that the EPA does not recommend that untrained persons collect asbestos samples). Jim sent the sample into the lab and, a week later, learned that the material in his laundry room contained no asbestos at all.

Instead of spending over $1000 on the removal of the materials, Jim spent less than $100 on a test to be sure and now he knows his laundry room is safe. What is even more disturbing about this story is that the materials in Jim’s laundry room were in good condition. How is this important? The EPA advises against asbestos remediation when materials are intact and in good condition. Removal of asbestos materials that are in good condition can actually release asbestos fibers into the air that otherwise would have remained sealed in the material. The other option would be to encapsulate the material to ensure that the fibers do not become airborne in the future.

In this story there were three separate asbestos remediation companies and not one of them tested the material in Jim’s home for asbestos content. Not one of them suggested leaving the material in place since it was in good condition. Jim was lucky to have access to an informed acquaintance with whom he could inquire about the situation, but what about the rest of the world who may not have such connections?

One recommendation the article makes is to avoid companies that perform their own testing and abatement. Third-party testing helps lower the chances of being taken advantage of in this type of situation. The best recommendation is to educate yourself on asbestos in the home and understand proper procedures and practices before you contact an abatement company to perform any removal. The EPA website is an excellent resource for environmental and home health issues. And, again, it is important to note that the EPA does not recommend that untrained persons collect asbestos samples. Be safe out there!