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Asbestos in House or Apartment

Information presented in this publication is intended to provide a general understanding of the statutory and regulatory requirements governing managing asbestos. This information is not intended to replace, limit or expand upon the complete statutory and regulatory requirements found in the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and Title 35 of the Illinois Administrative Code.

This fact sheet applies to privately owned homes and apartments with four or less units. If your building was at one time used for public or commercial purposes, refer to the " How Do I Manage Asbestos in My Building?" fact sheet.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral found in certain rocks. This mineral separates into strong, thin fibers that are not visible to the naked eye. Asbestos was commonly used in home building materials before the mid-1970s and occasionally until the late 1980s because it is strong, fire- and corrosion-resistant and a good insulator. Common uses of asbestos include the following:

  • As a building material additive to enhance strength (for example, asbestos was added to concrete, asphalt, and vinyl materials in roof shingles, pipes, siding, wall board, floor tiles, joint compounds, and adhesives)
  • As a fireproofing material applied on steel beams and columns during construction of multistory homes
  • As a thermal insulation and as a means of controlling condensation
  • As an ingredient in acoustical plaster
  • As a component of a mixture of sprayed on ceilings and walls to produce a soft, textured appearance.

If the materials discussed above contain more than one percent asbestos, they are considered asbestos-containing materials (ACM). ACM can be friable or nonfriable. When dry, friable ACM can be crumbled or reduced to a powder by hand pressure and presents a greater risk to human health than nonfriable ACM. When dry, nonfriable ACM cannot be crumbled or reduced to a powder by hand pressure.

When is ACM a problem?

If ACM is in good condition and left in place, it should not present health risks. However, if a building is going to be demolished, renovated, or remodeled, care should be taken to prevent the release of asbestos fibers into the air. Inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers from friable ACM can cause health risks. Once inhaled, asbestos fibers can become lodged in tissue for a long time and can cause cancer. Asbestos can also cause asbestos-related diseases or problems such as asbestosis, a progressive disabling and potentially fatal disease; mesotheliona, a rare cancer of the mesothelium, a thin tissue layer that lines body cavities and surrounds internal organs; and pleural plaques, scar tissue in the chest cavity. The number of fibers a person must inhale to develop asbestos-related disease is not known. At very low exposure levels (such as being in the same room as a cracked tile containing asbestos), the risks can be negligible. However, during renovation and removal activities, risks from exposure are greatly increased. Also, smoking greatly increases the risk of asbestos-related lung cancer. Almost all known cases of asbestos-related lung cancer occurred among people who smoked and were exposed to asbestos.

A person must inhale asbestos fibers in order to incur any chance of developing an asbestos-related disease. Swallowing fibers does not pose a health risk.

Could ACM be present in my house or apartment building?

Friable ACM is present in many public and commercial buildings, schools, houses, apartment buildings, and factories built before the mid-1970s and in some buildings after the mid-1970s. If you are not sure ACM is present in your dwelling, ask people who frequently work around ACM such as plumbers, contractors and heating specialists. You can also hire an asbestos inspector. A licensed inspector may obtain samples for laboratory analysis. Call the Illinois Department of Public Health at (217) 782-3517 for a list of licensed asbestos inspectors.

Where Do I Look For Asbestos In My House?

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A. Exterior Surfaces

  1. Deck Undersheeting
  2. Cement Asbestos Board Siding and Undersheeting
  3. Roof Felt and Shingles
  4. Window Putty

B. Insulation

  1. Loose Blown-in Fill Insulation
  2. Batt Insulation

C. Flooring

  1. Vinyl Asbestos Sheets, Tiles, and Undersheeting

D. Boilers, Heaters, and Piping

  1. Heat Source Covering
  2. Air Duct Lining
  3. Door and Cover Gaskets
  4. Pipe Lagging
  5. Wall Gaskets and Lining

E. Interior Surfaces

  1. Sprayed-On Acoustical Ceilings
  2. Acoustical Tiles
  3. Textured Paint
  4. Heat Reflectors (Woodstoves)

F. Built-In Equipment

  1. Water Heaters
  2. Range Hoods
  3. Clothes Driers
  4. Dishwashers


Although asbestos might be present in many places in your home, it is not of concern if it is maintained in an undamaged or unfriable state. This drawing can help you understand where asbestos might be located so that you can maintain household asbestos in good condition (especially when remodeling or doing household repairs) or seek professional help to properly remove it.

Source: Modified from Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority.

If ACM is present in my house or apartment building, should I remove it?

Leaving ACM in place when possible is often the best option. If friable ACM is present, you should inspect it regularly for damage, such as (1) missing or fallen sections of sprayed on fireproofing or insulation or (2) pieces hanging loose from ACM. If ACM is damaged, it can be repaired rather than removed. If ACM is damaged, you should call a trained professional to make the repairs.

You should hire a qualified inspector to inspect your building for ACM prior to any renovation or demolition activities. In some cases, ACM may need to be removed during a renovation project; however, this is not required. ACM does not have to be removed if it is in good condition.

Removal is often not the best option for reducing asbestos exposure. Often, it is best to leave ACM in place because disturbing it may release airborne microscopic fibers that could be inhaled.

How do I prevent the release of airborne asbestos fibers?

The following methods can be used to prevent the release of airborne asbestos fibers:

Repair of damaged ACM such as the insulation around pipes, boilers, tanks, or ducts by wrapping the ACM with heavy tape such as duct tape.

Encapsulation by treating ACM with a liquid compound called an "encapsulant" that provides a seal to prevent release of fibers. Encapsulation is not appropriate if the ACM is deteriorated or the encapsulant does not adhere to the ACM.

Enclosure by constructing an airtight, impermeable, permanent barrier around the ACM.

Asbestos repair materials can be purchased from suppliers listed under "Safety equipment and clothing" in the telephone book yellow pages.

If necessary, how do I remove ACM?

The National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) and other asbestos-related regulations do not apply to privately owned homes and apartments with four or less units. However, ACM should be removed prior to demolition activities and some renovation activities. A licensed contractor should remove the ACM. These contractors can be found in the telephone book yellow pages or by calling the Illinois Department of Public Health at (217) 782-3517. However, if you plan to conduct the removal yourself, you should follow the Illinois EPA recommendations listed below.

  • Seal off the area from which the asbestos will be removed, and shut off any forced air heating systems.
  • Wear a respirator fitted with cartridges that filter out asbestos fibers.
  • Avoid breaking the asbestos into small pieces because this can increase the amount of airborne fibers. If asbestos is removed improperly and is broken or crumbles, causing dust, health risks increase.
  • Keep the asbestos wet during the entire removal process by using a spray bottle or other device.
  • Place the asbestos in leakproof plastic bags, and seal the bags.
  • Place the sealed bags in a cardboard box to prevent them from breaking open, and dispose of the bags at a permitted landfill.
  • Clean the area from which the asbestos was removed thoroughly with a wet mop, rags, or sponges.
  • Wash yourself and change your clothes.

How do I obtain more information?

For more information on ACM, call the DCCA Small Business Environmental Assistance Helpline at (800) 252-3998. All calls are considered confidential and the caller can remain anonymous.

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