Building and Home Owners Asbestos Guide

New York State Departments of Health and Labor
Building and Home Owners Asbestos Guide
What You Can Do if Asbestos Was Improperly Abated

What can I do if I suspect that the asbestos abatement in my building may have been conducted improperly?

What you should do will depend on the kind and amount of asbestos containing material that was on your property, where the material was located in the building and what other work has occurred in the building since the abatement was conducted. You need to think about the following factors collectively when trying to decide what you should do next.

  1. What kind of asbestos containing material was abated?

    Asbestos containing materials become a health risk when they break up or crumble and release asbestos fibers into the air. (Flaking or loose and fragmented asbestos containing materials are called "friable.") The more tightly the material holds together, the less chance there is for the release of asbestos fibers. Materials like roofing shingles or floor tiles will release fewer fibers during abatement than pipe insulation or sprayed on asbestos that has to be scraped off structures. Therefore, the kind of material that was abated and the condition of that material are the most important factors in deciding what problems may exist in your building or home. Also, for any given material, the larger the quantity of that material abated, the greater the potential for increasing fiber release.

  2. Where did the abatement occur?

    The factor to consider is the opportunity for building occupants to become exposed to asbestos fibers that may have been released during the abatement. Did the abatement occur in an area that is regularly occupied or in an area infrequently visited? Another important consideration would be the potential for asbestos fibers generated during the abatement to enter the air handling system. Any activity that occurred in or near air handling systems has the potential to spread asbestos fibers to other parts of the building.

  3. What has occurred in the building since the abatement?

    Normal cleaning by wet mopping and washing could reduce the chances that asbestos fibers that might have been released during abatement are still present. For example, abatement that occurred in an area of the building that was subsequently cleaned over most surfaces is less likely to have levels of asbestos fibers that would be a concern.

Building and homeowners need to consider all of these factors to decide if additional actions are necessary. For example, an abatement that occurred in one area of a building where occupants rarely go, or of materials that stay largely intact like floor tile, would pose a lower risk than an abatement of friable materials in regularly occupied areas. An abatement of a small amount of friable asbestos containing material in an area that is regularly wet mopped may not be a substantial concern. However, improper abatement of friable asbestos in an air handling system would be a serious concern that should be carefully evaluated.

I've thought about the abatement that occurred in my home or building as discussed above and I continue to have concerns. What else can I do?

If you have concerns about the air quality or the condition of any remaining asbestos containing material in your building or home, you may want to consider hiring an environmental consulting firm that is licensed by the New York State Department of Labor to provide asbestos related consulting services. These licensed firms employ New York State Department of Labor certified Air Sampling Technicians, Inspectors, Project Designers and Project Monitors. These professionals will have the skills necessary to help you evaluate your building or home and advise you if additional cleaning or abatement is necessary.

If you wish to verify the license of a firm or certification of an individual or want to obtain a list of qualified Air Sampling Technicians, Project Monitors or Inspectors, you can call the New York State Department of Labor at (518) 485-6476. This information is also available on the New York State Department of Labor web site at

What should a licensed environmental consulting firm do?

A licensed firm should review with you the abatement that was conducted in your building or home. This may include a visual inspection of the location where the asbestos material was abated and an evaluation of the type and quantity of the material abated. The environmental consulting firm also might recommend air, dust and/or bulk material sampling to determine if there may be asbestos fibers present and if the level of asbestos in your building or home is within permissible levels. Only a certified Air Sampling Technician may conduct air sampling for asbestos fibers, and the samples must be sent to an Environmental Laboratory that is certified by the New York State Department of Health to analyze asbestos samples. If additional asbestos may be in your building or home, the licensed firm may recommend that an asbestos inspection be conducted. An Inspector or Project Designer can evaluate the condition of confirmed asbestos material and aid the building or homeowner in determining the appropriate course of action.

If you have any questions regarding the laboratory analysis of asbestos or need a list of environmental laboratories certified to analyze for asbestos, contact the New York State Department of Health at (518) 485-5570.

What if the air samples or bulk samples collected continue to show the presence of asbestos?

The presence of asbestos fibers, either in air samples or bulk samples, does not necessarily require abatement. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. It was also used in many products including brake linings on cars. Therefore, some background level of fibers could exist in the air. Asbestos material in a building component may not need to be removed if it is in good condition. Asbestos containing materials pose a health risk when they become damaged and crumble, releasing asbestos fibers into the air.

Should I decide to re-clean?

Your decision to re-clean your building or home should be based on the results of any testing that is conducted and the opportunity for exposure from any remaining asbestos fibers. Clean up entails vacuuming the area with a vacuum equipped with special filters (HEPA filters) and wet wiping affected surfaces. A New York State Department of Labor licensed asbestos abatement contractor should be employed to conduct re-cleaning.

What health problem does asbestos cause?

Most of our knowledge of the health effects of asbestos exposure results from studies of workers. Workers in asbestos mines, factories that produced products with asbestos, shipyard workers where asbestos was used as insulating material and in other industrial situations had levels of exposure far greater than a building occupant might experience. Over a prolonged period of time, once asbestos fibers enter the lung, two major types of health problems occur. The lung may react to the fibers by forming fibrous or "scar" tissue around each microscopic fiber, and, over time, this scar tissue may lead to breathing problems. Fibers also may cause changes in the body that may eventually lead to cancerous growth.

The major diseases caused by exposure to friable asbestos are asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. In all of these diseases, symptoms generally do not typically appear until many years after exposure.

  • Asbestosis is a disease caused by the gradual formation of scar tissue in the lungs (fibrosis). Symptoms include shortness of breath, chronic cough and chest pain. Asbestosis usually occurs only in people working directly with asbestos for long periods of time. Workers exposed to asbestos also have a higher risk of developing lung cancer, and workers who smoke after exposure to asbestos, have a greatly increased chance of developing lung cancer.
  • Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lung or the lining of the abdomen. People exposed to asbestos have an increased risk of developing this cancer, usually many years after exposure, sometimes as long as 40 years later. Families of asbestos workers also have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma, probably from asbestos brought home on work clothes.

Should I be concerned about my health as a result of the asbestos abatement project in my home or building?

Based on all of the information we know about asbestos in buildings, the chance that you experienced a high exposure to asbestos is small. Projects that involved a large amount of friable asbestos would be of the most concern; but for most building occupants, the chance of developing an asbestos-related health problem is small.

Is there anything that I can do if I think I was exposed to asbestos?

There are currently no medical tests that detect exposure to low levels of asbestos, and there are no specific steps to take to lower the risk of later disease. For people who work with asbestos directly (including people doing maintenance on asbestos insulation), periodic medical testing is recommended. These tests should include chest X-rays which help to detect signs of asbestos exposure. People working with asbestos should take steps to reduce exposure including proper use of protective equipment. Cigarette smoking also should be avoided. Anyone who has concerns about their possible exposure should discuss this with their physician.

If you need additional information on health effects of asbestos, contact the New York State Department of Health at 518-402-7940 or 1-800-458-1158 or the United States Environmental Protection Agency at (212) 637-4042.