Homeowners and volunteers cleaning out flooded homes need to be alert to the potential that insulation may contain asbestos, according to state health officials.
The North Dakota Health Department, First District Health Unit and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put out a warning Thursday urging people to take the time to identify insulation that may contain asbestos and take precautions if handling any of the material. The warning comes after finding vermiculite insulation, which contains asbestos, along the curbs in the Minot area.
Inhalation of asbestos can result in lung diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Having asbestos in a home is not a health concern unless the tiny fibers become airborne and are inhaled.
Health officials aren't sure to what extent the problem may exist in flooded homes. Sandi Washek with the health department's air quality division said vermiculite insulation was commonly used in building or renovating homes between 1940 and 1986.
Vermiculite, also known as Zonolite, is pebbly and loose and resembles very lightweight gravel or small packing peanuts. It looks like shiny, small pieces of popcorn and usually is light brown or gold in color. Vermiculite may be poured inside framed walls or cinder block walls or spread out between attic rafters or under floors. Pictures of vermiculite insulation can be found on the EPA's website at (www.epa.gov/asbestos/pubs/verm.html.)
Washek said vermiculite isn't the only asbestos-containing insulation, and other types may look different, from having a cardboard shell to those that look like chalky black mud that sometimes was used around boilers.
If in doubt, people can contact a state-accredited asbestos contractor for an evaluation. EPA recommends asbestos cleanup be performed by asbestos contractors. The health department includes asbestos information and a list of contractors at (www.ndhealth.gov). Type "asbestos" into the search box.
Rules requiring professional removal apply to multi-family residences of more than four units and commercial and industrial properties. Homeowners have the option of removing the asbestos themselves.
"We really want to see them hire the professional contractors," Washek said. "They have the equipment and the ability."
For homeowners who do the job themselves, it is important to work with insulation while it is wet to reduce the chance of airborne particles, she said.
Guidelines to follow if handling asbestos-containing insulation include:
- At a minimum, wear gloves, goggles, and a HEPA respirator, not just an N-94 mask for mold or dust mask.
- Remove material while wet or damp, double bag it and label it as "asbestos containing." The bags can be placed at the curb with the household hazardous waste debris.
- Tape off rooms with plastic sheeting to prevent contaminating other areas of the home. Keep the insulation damp to prevent spreading dust.
- Keep windows open for good ventilation and remove all dust and debris using wet wiping and wet mopping.
- Use a HEPA vacuum for clean-up of minor dust or debris. Do not use a home/shop vacuum.
- While still wearing a respirator/mask, wash hands and clothing after handling such materials.
- If at all possible, avoid activities that will generate dust, such as dry sweeping or vacuuming debris that may contain asbestos.
- Keep children and pregnant women out of the house until the work is done and the area is properly cleaned.