Keeping the Environment in Your Home Healthy is a Challenge
Say a pipe springs a leak. All of a sudden, you’ve got mold growing in places you shouldn’t see it. Even worse, it could be one of the 50 species of toxic mold. Then you start the process of arguing with the insurance company. Did we say arguing? We meant to say, you start what feels like a pit fight with your insurance company.
Mold is just one of the problems you face in your quest for a healthy home environment. A potentially deadly problem that might be lurking in your walls is asbestos. Let’s dig into asbestos to see why it’s a problem and how Homeowners Insurance deals with it.
Asbestos: What Is It?
Unlike many dangerous substances that we might come into contact with in homes, asbestos isn’t man-made. It’s actually a group of silicate minerals that share the tendency to form long, thin crystals. Silicates are formed from various combinations of silicon and oxygen. Quartz and talc are common examples of silicate minerals.
Asbestos is strong and fire resistant. That made it a popular addition to building materials such as cement and insulation. It was also commonly used in roofing materials, HVAC duct connectors, vinyl tiles, and caulk.
Since the early 1970’s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned asbestos in many products. This prompted the use of substitute materials, such as fiberglass, in many products. The EPA tried to set a rule in 1989 that would have effectively banned asbestos in the US, but the rule was overturned in court.
What’s the Big Deal?
Asbestos poses serious health risks – that’s why its historical widespread use in home construction is a problem. It’s also the reason asbestos removal is such a priority when it’s found. When asbestos is disturbed it releases tiny asbestos fibers into the air. Break a vinyl tile made with asbestos during a home renovation, it releases the fibers. Break a whole kitchen’s worth of those tiles and you get lots of asbestos in the air.
This is where it gets unhealthy. When these fibers are inhaled, they get lodged in lung tissue. The strength that made asbestos so popular also makes it nearly impossible for the body to break down. As the asbestos sits in the lungs, it can cause several health conditions.
One condition it causes is a chronic lung disease called asbestosis. The fibers in your lungs create a kind of scar tissue. That tissue makes your lungs less elastic, which makes it harder to breathe. Asbestos can also cause lung cancer or a rare kind of cancer called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the lungs, heart, and abdomen.
It should be noted that these conditions show up most often in asbestos workers and their family members. Two groups with high levels of exposure, rather than incidental exposure.
Should I Get It Removed?
Before you get into whether insurance will cover asbestos removal costs, you need to decide if it needs to be removed. Much of the asbestos in a home is buried in the walls or unlikely to come into direct contact. This dormant asbestos isn’t a real health threat. To shed the dangerous fibers, the asbestos needs to be damaged, cut, or otherwise disturbed. If you aren’t planning anything that’s likely to disturb the asbestos, you can leave the asbestos right where you found it.
It’s a different story if the asbestos is already damaged or you’re planning a renovation that will disturb it. In those cases, you’ll need to take steps to either contain or remove the asbestos.
How Is Asbestos Removal or Containment Done?
For a small amount of asbestos in low-activity areas, you can opt for containment. One approach to containment is applying a sealant that binds or coats the asbestos. This prevents fiber release into the home. The other approach is to cover the asbestos with a protective wrap that contains the fibers.
Asbestos removal is complicated because the location of the asbestos varies. In general, the removal process will follow a pattern like this:
The work area is sealed off from the rest of the house with heavy duty plastic, then negative air pressure machines with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are temporarily installed. These machines draw the air out of the work area and prevent asbestos from spreading by air. Workers wearing protective body suits and respirators remove any materials containing asbestos. Everything is bagged. The entire area is cleaned with a HEPA vacuum. The removal company then disposes of the asbestos based on local laws.
Asbestos Removal, Does Homeowner’s Insurance Cover It?
The answer to that is a very unsatisfying, “it depends.” There’s something called a pollution exclusion that turns up in most insurance policies. When you strip away the legalese, the gist is that pollutants aren’t the insurance company’s problem. Asbestos is generally classified as a pollutant.
Let’s say you decide to do some DIY remodeling and rip out a wall to create an open floor plan. If there’s asbestos in the wall, the insurance company will say you were negligent and refuse coverage under the pollution clause. “A professional contractor would have dealt with the asbestos safely,” they’ll say, “It’s your own fault.”
That isn’t quite the end of the story… Let’s say you have good coverage in your homeowner’s policy. A violent storm rolls through and drops a huge tree limb through your roof and ceiling. The contractor tells you there’s asbestos in the attic. In this case, you aren’t responsible for releasing the asbestos. The storm created the problem, so the pollution clause becomes more malleable. The insurance company will probably help pay for the asbestos removal in those circumstances.
Asbestos is scary stuff with real health consequences. It’s also mostly harmless as long as you don’t disturb or damage it. That’s a good thing for anyone worried about keeping their home environment healthy. It’s also good because insurance companies won’t cover asbestos removal under normal conditions.
Duraclean specializes in water damage mitigation, mold remediation, and other disaster restoration services. If your home or business has suffered any kind of disaster, please don’t hesitate to contact us today!