What Does Asbestos Look Like And How To Identify It

Asbestos is a mineral that was once commonly used in building materials such as insulation, roofing shingles, and floor tiles. It is now known to cause serious health problems, including cancer, when it is disturbed and released into the air. If you are unsure whether or not the material in your home contains asbestos, it is important to learn how to identify it. This article will teach you what asbestos looks like and how to tell if it is present in your home.

What Does Asbestos Look Like?

There are more than 5000 items that are contaminated with asbestos. The purpose of this article is to provide a brief overview of the building and construction products that are contaminated with asbestos.

In its natural form, asbestos ore can be found in a variety of hues that include blue, green, white, and brown. When asbestos is processed, it splits into soft fibers.

Although asbestos found in household products can’t be readily identifiable just by looking at it, in some cases, you can spot asbestos fibers in damaged asbestos-containing products.

Tiny asbestos fibres are usually found in household items if asbestos gets mixed into other substances like cement or plastic. When the materials are damaged, tiny asbestos fibres that resemble fragile pieces of fraying fabric could appear. But, observing fibres sticking out from a product doesn’t necessarily mean that it is asbestos-free. Only tests can prove whether asbestos exists.

We’ve looked at the most popular asbestos-based building and construction materials. There are numerous to mention. Each section gives an overview of the particular asbestos material and its properties. Then we give you the primary characteristics to be aware of that can help you recognize the different types of asbestos. It is important to remember it is possible to find asbestos in various forms, sizes, and finishes, and knowing how asbestos appears is a huge topic. This is a brief overview of what asbestos looks like and covers asbestos only in a good state. It is more difficult to be aware of what asbestos appears like after it has been damaged and has very tiny pieces or even debris. It requires an experienced surveyor to identify it.

If you are unsure whether asbestos exists anywhere, consult an experienced UKAS-certified (inspection body 4600) asbestos surveying firm for assistance. Remember, even though having information on asbestos can be helpful, it’s always the most secure option. The process of asbestos surveying and being aware of the best places to look and the best way to identify asbestos is a highly skilled occupation. It’s a skill that requires many years of experience and training to learn. If you’re not sure about it, contact us. We’re available for rapid and uncomplicated guidance.

Asbestos Boards

Known as:Insulating board (AIB), board, Asbestolux
Asbestos content:15 – 25%
Other main content:Calcium silicate
Main asbestos type:Amosite (Brown) asbestos
Main colours:Light & dark grey
Density:Medium to soft
Damage potential:Easy, high
Asbestos fibre release potential:High
Timeline Manufacture & Usage:1880’s – 1980

Asbestos boards may differ in asbestos content. They have also been identified to contain different asbestos fiber kinds. They can be found in a variety of colors, including pink. These color variations are uncommon. It can be easily painted and can have an external colour finish. The images below illustrate how asbestos boards typically appear which will allow you recognize asbestos of this kind.

Asbestos Thermal Insulation:

Known as:Insulation, pipe lagging, sectional, hand-applied, caposite
Asbestos content:6 – 85%
Other main content:Magnesia & calcium silicate
Main asbestos type:Chrysotile (White) asbestos, Amosite (Brown), Crocidolite (Blue)
Main colours:White, brown, grey & pink
Density:Very low & soft
Damage potential:Easy, high
Asbestos fibre release potential:High
Timeline Manufacture & Usage:1880s–1970s

Asbestos thermal may differ with asbestos content. It is identified to contain all types of asbestos fibres. It comes in a variety of shades and finishes and has been found to be a mixture of different asbestos-based substances. These photos depict what asbestos thermal insulation typically appears.

Asbestos Sprayed Insulation:

Known as:Sprayed insulation, coating, limpet
Asbestos content:55 – 85%
Other main content:Portland cement
Main asbestos type:Chrysotile (White) asbestos, Amosite (Brown), Crocidolite (Blue)
Main colours:White, brown, grey & pink
Density:Medium & soft
Damage potential:Very low & soft
Asbestos fibre release potential:High
Timeline Manufacture & Usage:1880’s – 1974

Asbestos textiles vary in asbestos content and are identified to be a mixture of all types of asbestos fibre. These images illustrate how the asbestos-containing textiles typically look.

Asbestos-sprayed insulation can differ in asbestos content and is known to contain all types of asbestos fibre. The product is available in many colors and finishes, and is known to be a mixture of different asbestos-containing substances. These photos illustrate how asbestos-sprayed insulation looks.

Asbestos Textiles:

Known as:Textiles, rope, gasket, yarn, string, blanket, cloth
Asbestos content:Approaching 100%
Other main content:Usually none
Main asbestos type:Chrysotile (White) asbestos
Main colours:White
Density:Medium & soft
Damage potential:Easy, high
Asbestos fibre release potential:Medium
Timeline Manufacture & Usage: 1880’s – 2000

Asbestos textiles can vary with asbestos content and have been known to contain all asbestos fibre types. The following photographs show how asbestos textiles generally looks.

Asbestos Gaskets & Washers:

Known as:Gaskets, washers, CAF (compressed asbestos fibre)
Asbestos content:90%
Other main content:Heat resistant binders
Main asbestos type:Chrysotile (White) asbestos
Main colours:Red, green, pink
Damage potential:Medium
Asbestos fibre release potential:Low
Timeline Manufacture & Usage:1880’s – 2000

Asbestos gaskets and washers come in various colours and finishes. The following photographs show how asbestos gaskets and washers generally looks. 

Asbestos Cement:

Known as:Cement, sheeting, profiled sheeting, cladding, panels
Asbestos content: 10 – 25%
Other main content:Portland cement, cellulose
Main asbestos type:Chrysotile (White) asbestos
Main colours:Light & dark grey
Damage potential:Low
Asbestos fibre release potential:Low
Timeline Manufacture & Usage:1880’s – 2000

Asbestos cement comes in many different finishes and products. The following photographs show how asbestos  cement generally looks. 

Asbestos Paper:

Known as:Paper, lining, backing, cardboard
Asbestos content:100%
Other main content:None
Main asbestos type:Chrysotile (White) asbestos
Main colours:White, light brown
Damage potential:High
Asbestos fibre release potential:Medium
Timeline Manufacture & Usage:1880’s – 2000

Asbestos paper comes in many different finishes and products. The following photographs show how asbestos paper generally looks. 

Asbestos Vinyl:

Known as:Vinyl, thermoplastic, floor tiles
Asbestos content:2 – 20%
Other main content:Magnesium, PVC
Main asbestos type:Chrysotile (White) asbestos
Main colours:All colours
Damage potential:Low
Asbestos fibre release potential:Low
Timeline Manufacture & Usage:1880’s – 2000

Asbestos vinyl generally looks like linoleum and plastic floor tiles. The following photographs show how asbestos vinyl generally looks. 

Asbestos Resin:

Known as:Resin, bakelite, plastic
Asbestos content:1 – 10%
Other main content:Plastic & bakelite
Main asbestos type:Chrysotile (White) asbestos, Amosite (Brown) asbestos
Main colours:All colours (Mainly black)
Damage potential:Low
Asbestos fibre release potential:Low
Timeline Manufacture & Usage:1880’s – 1990’s

Asbestos resins are generally black and look similar to hard plastic. The following photographs show how asbestos resin generally looks. 

Asbestos Decorative Coating:

Known as:Textured coating, artex, pebblecoat
Asbestos content:3 – 5%
Other main content:Plaster, grit
Main asbestos type:Chrysotile (White) asbestos
Main colours:All colours (Mainly white)
Damage potential:Low
Asbestos fibre release potential:Low
Timeline Manufacture & Usage:1880’s – 1990’s

Asbestos textured coatings generally look like textured paint finish. The following photographs show how asbestos textured coatings generally look.

Common Exposure Scenarios

Exposure to Asbestos within your Home could take place in various ways, including DIY home renovations, drilling into the wall, or replacing an old pipe. The following scenarios outline how homeowners are exposed to Asbestos while at Home.

Attic Renovation

When he was renovating the attic of his 1960s-era Home, John found piles of brown pebble-like insulation. John determined to replace the old insulation with a new fibreglass one to cut winter months. He dumped the loose insulation into garbage bags, and then he installed the new insulation.

John did not realize that his attic had been lined with vermiculite containing Asbestos. By causing damage to the material, it spreads asbestos fibers into the air. John would have been better off leaving the insulation in its place and testing it for Asbestos before removing it.

Dust from the Brake in the Garage at Home

Ralph is a fan of building his own 1965 Corvette Stingray. When the brakes began to whine, Ralph wanted to replace the brakes in his garage. After taking off the rear tires, he noticed that the brake drums were covered with dust. He hit the drums with a hammer before blowing off the dust using the help of an air compressor.

Because certain brake components contain Asbestos when sprayed with compressed air, they may release harmful fibers into the air. Ralph should have brought his vehicle to the repair shop or cleaned the drums of his brakes with a soft and oiled cloth.

Drilling into Asbestos in Drywall

Erica recently received a painting in the silent auction. She was eager to take it home and place it within her family room. She carefully measured her space and employed a drill to put in anchors for the drywall to hold the painting in the right place. The painting was not perfectly level, so she had to drill several holes to hang it perfectly.

She was unaware that her house was constructed using asbestos-rich drywall. When she cut holes in the walls to put up her artwork, asbestos fibers were released from the wall into the living room. Erica ought to have been aware of the Asbestos in her walls, but she let it go.

Removing Vinyl Floor Tiles

Herman recently bought a 1950s fixer-upper home in his town of residence. His first task was to renovate the bathroom in his master’s. He decided to begin with removing the vinyl floor tile. Using a scraper, he removed the tile and then laid his new floor tile.

Asbestos was an ingredient that was commonly used in vinyl flooring in the 1950s. Utilizing a scraper to remove the flooring from the past can let asbestos fibers out, which is dangerous. Herman should have put in the new tile on top of it.

Popcorn Ceiling Removal

Janine was getting tired of the texture of the popcorn on the ceilings of her Home and determined to remove it and then repaint it with smooth, even texture. After applying the eye shield and dust cover, she climbed up her ladder and set to work. After a lot of scraping, a few sandings, and some meticulous painting, her work was complete.

A variety of textured ceiling finishes, such as popcorn ceilings containing Asbestos hidden. The removal of the popcorn finish releases asbestos fibers in microscopic sizes that easily got through Janine’s mask. It was best to have employed a professional with experience in the safe removal of asbestos-related hazards.

While it’s the most secure alternative, hiring asbestos removal experts can be costly. But before taking down the entire surface of the popcorn, homeowners can scrape away the small amount and conduct home testing using a kit available at the store. The removal of even a small amount to test requires safety, including the N95 respiratory protection for eyes.

Cutting Pipe Insulation

While repairing the basement in his late 1800s Victorian residence, Brent noticed the insulation around his hot water lines was beginning to degrade. To avoid losing energy efficiency, he removed the old insulation using the help of a knife and substituted it with the new insulation made of fiberglass.

Brent ought to have been aware that plumbing systems from the past are covered in asbestos insulation. The insulation could have exposed him to a risk of exposure before he began the work, but cutting through the damaged material let more fibers escape in the air. Brent ought to have sought an asbestos specialist to cover the asbestos insulation.

What can I do about the Asbestos that I have in my Home?

If you spot an item in your Home you believe to be Asbestos, Do not touch it.

Even if the item is in good working order, the best solution is to let it be.

If the material appears to be damaged or any future activity could damage it, you should contact trained and certified Asbestos professional. Restrict access to the area until an expert can verify whether Asbestos exists.

The best way to prevent being exposed to Asbestos is to become aware of the asbestos-containing materials that are in your Home, as well as their location and condition.

What Can I Do to Determine If a Product in My Home is Asbestos?

It is extremely difficult to determine Asbestos simply by just looking at it, which is why it is necessary to send your samples to a laboratory for analysis.

Homeowners may collect samples to test them. However, it’s more secure for you and your family members to employ a certified asbestos expert for the task.

Find “asbestos inspection” on the internet to find an accredited expert in your region. The U.S. Department of Commerce has an inventory of asbestos-certified labs online.

How Much Is Asbestos Exposure Harmful?

It generally takes many exposures to Asbestos for related diseases to form. It’s rare for anyone to be sickened by asbestos-containing products found in their homes. However, it’s likely.

Many people who develop asbestos-related illnesses have been exposed to Asbestos in the workplace for a long time—about 20% of exposed asbestos workers eventually suffer from a similar condition.

Yet, severe short-term exposures to Asbestos have been proven to trigger the disease. According to a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report on Asbestos, “No evidence of a threshold or safe exposure has been identified.”

Dos and Don’ts for Asbestos Safety

If you live in an older house, you must take every precaution to prevent harmful materials that could contain Asbestos.

Even if you think the issue is small, you should seek the help of an expert when Asbestos could be present. Unsafe handling of Asbestos could lead to exposure in areas where there was no risk before.

Avoid contact with potentially hazardous asbestos-containing materials.Do not cut, sand, scrape, or drill substances that could contain Asbestos.
Make sure you take every precaution not to cause damage to any materials that might contain Asbestos.Avoid sweeping, vacuuming, or dust particles that may contain Asbestos.
Speak to the inspector at your house or your real estate agent regarding any asbestos-related risks to your Home.Do not collect asbestos samples to test without adequate training.
Only certified professionals can conduct asbestos inspections, tests, repairs, or removal.Do not work with or near asbestos-containing materials unless educated and certified.
If you’re planning to demolish your house, contact an appropriate regulator within the local or state government.Do not remove Asbestos unless repairs or concealment is not possible, and you’re in danger of being exposed.
Do not dispose of asbestos-containing substances with regular household trash.

How do I be tested for exposure to Asbestos?

If you’re worried that you’ve been exposed, begin by speaking with your primary physician. No test can confirm if you’ve been exposed to Asbestos. However, some tests can determine if asbestos-related diseases are present.

Your physician can request imaging scans to detect evidence of asbestos-related illness.

Asbestos-related illnesses are difficult to recognize because not all primary care physicians have the right tools and expertise to recognize them.

If you are certain that you were exposed to Asbestos in the past, it’s recommended to get regular examinations by a licensed lung specialist, like an occupational Pulmonologist.

The majority of asbestos-related diseases are discovered within 15 years of exposure.

How Much Does Asbestos Testing Cost?

The most used method for testing, Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM), can cost anywhere between $20-$100 for a sample. Certain labs employ Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), which is more costly.

The cost of testing for Asbestos differs depending on the number of samples tested and the method employed.

DIY tests will require you to send samples to an accredited lab that could charge an additional fee, usually about $40 for testing.

However, if you collect samples, you can create exposure risks. It is best to work with an expert who is certified. The total cost for labour may range between $300 and $600, a modest cost for security that you know the work will be safely done.

What happens if I break Asbestos Laws?

All activities involving Asbestos should be conducted by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules and regulations and any asbestos laws in the state. Certain asbestos-related violations can could result in written warnings.

Others could be charged with criminal offences and prison sentences or civil penalties of up to $25,000 per offence by the gravity of the violation.

About Waqar Ali

My name is Waqar and I am a Health and Safety Advisor at Laing O'Rourke, one of the leading construction companies in the UK. I have always been passionate about safety and have pursued a career in this field to make a positive impact on people's lives.

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