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Could There Be Asbestos in Your Gutters?

Image: yellowtogreen.blogspot.com

Over the history of construction, one of the most dangerous substances that has found its way into buildings is asbestos. It was originally touted for its high-tensile strength, resistance to heat, and malleability. But builders later discovered that when asbestos fibers are released into the air, they can be inhaled by humans — which can substantially increase the risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.

So you probably wouldn’t expect to find asbestos in your gutters.

But that’s exactly what happened in Glasgow, Scotland earlier this year. In May, St. Mark’s Primary School caught fire, prompting officials to warn residents to stay indoors and close their windows. After the blaze at the school (which has been closed since 2010), city officials detected the presence of asbestos in the debris; so authorities began a cleanup operation. As nearby buildings were being inspected, someone made a shocking discovery: the gutters of some of the surrounding homes contained asbestos fibers!

The working hypothesis is that asbestos was present in the roof or another part of the abandoned school, and those fibers were released during the fire. Over the years, asbestos has been found in products such as roofing shingles, asphalt or rubber floor tiles, and furnace insulation materials.

Should You Worry?
So given what happened in Scotland, is this something that you should be worried about?

In reality, the chance are slim that you’ll need to concern yourself with asbestos in your gutters. In the United States, asbestos has been banned from most homebuilding products for decades, so only older homes and buildings will still contain the substance. Asbestos was used in wall insulation between 1930 and 1950, although a form of it was also present in attic insulation up until 1990. Also, all patching compounds and textured paint manufactured since 1977 are asbestos-free. (In Scotland, all asbestos wasn’t banned by law until 1999.)

If You Do Have Asbestos…
If you as a homeowner are made aware of the presence of asbestos in your gutters — or anywhere in your house — it is vital that you do not attempt to remove it yourself. Only contractors who have a special license from the Environmental Protection Agency are permitted to handle and remove asbestos. That’s because the material easily crumbles or separates if handled improperly, which releases those harmful asbestos fibers into the air.

So even though it may be expensive, you must call a certified asbestos removal specialist to take care of it. (Don’t just tell your regular contractor to do it. It’s against the law for him to remove it, and there’s a high probability that he’ll do it wrong and contaminate your home.)

Thankfully, asbestos problems are becoming rarer and rarer in the 21st century. But as this recent crisis in Scotland illustrates, people must still exercise caution if they suspect asbestos may be present in a home or building.