Real estate agents are at risk of developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure
Asbestos is a mineral that has natural insulating and fireproofing capabilities. Until the 1980s, construction and manufacturing industries valued the mineral for these capabilities, and used it as an additive in building products and insulation.
Companies that manufactured and distributed building materials contaminated with asbestos have known about the cancer-causing attributes of the mineral since the early 1900s. The general public, however, became aware of the dangers caused by asbestos much later. In the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) attempted to enforce a series of regulations culminating in the “Asbestos Ban and Phaseout Act of 1989.” Though the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the blanket ban in 1991, many companies recognized the health hazard posed by asbestos, and voluntarily removed the mineral from their products.
Asbestos and Real Estate
Millions of older homes built before the 1980s still contain asbestos, and still pose a risk to real estate agents. Asbestos is friable, which means its fibers break apart easily and become airborne. Microscopic asbestos fibers accumulate in the air, where any person in the area can unknowingly inhale them. Over time, these fibers become lodged in the protective lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart, where they cause mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other asbestos-related diseases.
According to the EPA, the presence of asbestos in a home does not automatically pose a health risk. Asbestos fibers break apart very easily and become airborne if they are disturbed; if left undisturbed, however, asbestos-containing materials are relatively safe. Keep in mind that any activity occurring in a property — including repairing, removing, sanding, or drilling — can disturb asbestos-containing materials and increase your risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.
How to Avoid Exposure
As a real estate agent, you can avoid asbestos exposure by following safety regulations and abiding by your state’s realtor code of conduct. You should also learn how to identify asbestos. The most common asbestos-containing materials in single-family homes are:
- Insulation (boiler and duct),
- Floor tiles,
- Backing on vinyl flooring,
- Popcorn ceiling.
During visits to properties, avoid construction debris, even if you think it’s safe and asbestos-free. If you do suspect that a property contains asbestos, contact EPA-certified building inspectors to take samples, and never try to remove it yourself.
You’re also in a unique position to inform potential homeowners, buyers, and sellers of properties of the dangers caused by asbestos — many of your clients may be unaware of its carcinogenic characteristics. Educating others about the danger educating yourself about this carcinogen you could save lives—maybe even your own.
Safety Tip Sheet for Realtors
- Ask the property owner to see an asbestos assessment report for the property. If there isn’t one, have an EPA-certified asbestos professional conduct an inspection.
- Wear a respirator when you visit a property you suspect to be contaminated with asbestos — disposable dust masks won’t provide protection against microscopic asbestos fibers.
- Avoid damaged asbestos-containing materials.
- Do not attempt to dust, sweep, or vacuum debris — it could contain asbestos fibers.
- Wear protective clothing if you’re checking out a property suspected to contain asbestos and change that clothing before going home to avoid secondary exposure for loved ones.