Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings

In the last 20 years or so, popcorn ceilings have joined wallpaper borders and vertical blinds on the Island of Misfit Home Décor. They’ve become one of those trends that, at one time, you couldn’t seem to get away from, but in newer homes are now rarely seen, if at all.

While homebuilders continued to add this layer of texture to ceilings well into the 1990s, its adverse health effects caused the use of asbestos in popcorn ceilings to be banned in the late 70s. If you don’t know when your home was built, or if your ceilings were redone at some point, these dates may not be helpful. However, there are ways to identify whether or not asbestos is present in your ceilings, and if so, a safe way to remove it.

Health Risks of Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings

Asbestos is most commonly associated with mesothelioma, a lung cancer which is almost exclusively caused by breathing in microscopic asbestos fibers which become lodged in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, and heart. While mesothelioma typically develops over a long period of time, short-term asbestos exposure can also cause damage. Asbestosis is a scarring of the lung tissue that can cause a shortness of breath in those it affects, and can manifest much faster than mesothelioma.

Identifying Asbestos in Popcorn Ceilings

The easiest and most efficient way to determine whether or not your popcorn ceilings contain asbestos is to have them tested. This can be done professionally, or you can choose to do it yourself. Test kits are inexpensive and can be found at local hardware stores. However, should you decide to test your ceilings yourself, there are some rules you should follow in order to make sure the work you’re doing poses the smallest amount of risk to your health and the health of those around you.

  • Make sure no one else is in the room as you’re working.
  • Wear gloves and a covering over your mouth and nose.
  • Work clean. Place a plastic sheet on the ground beneath you to catch any mess.
  • Turn off any fans, heating, and AC, so as not to further spread any asbestos fibers released into the air.
  • Before removing the ceiling material, wet it down with a spray bottle of water. This will soften it, making it easier to remove and prevent dust from spreading.
  • Take only the smallest sample required.
  • Remove the ceiling material with a small knife or other appropriate tool. Place the material in a secure container. This can be a vial, a plastic bag, or something similar. Label the container with the date, where the sample was taken, and any other relevant information.
  • Dispose of the plastic sheet. If you used disposable gloves or a mouth and nose cover, dispose of those as well.
  • Cover the area you’ve tested with a piece of duct tape, or some other adhesive.

If Your Ceilings Contain Asbestos

Should your test come back positive and your ceilings do contain asbestos, the best – and safest – course of action may be to do nothing. Asbestos is only dangerous when it’s friable, meaning that it crumbles or disintegrates easily. If your ceiling is good condition, then tearing it apart will expose you to unnecessary risk.

Removing and Disposing of Asbestos in Your Ceiling

Of course, if you’d like to have the ceilings removed from your home, that option is available to you. The process of removing popcorn ceilings is much like removing a small sample to have tested. However, the mess that comes with it is much, much larger. It’s for this reason that hiring a professional to come in and remove the ceiling for you may be the more preferable option. While there are still steps you can take to protect yourself from asbestos dust released into the air, the chances that you will be able to entirely avoid breathing any of it in are small. In fact, you’re likely putting yourself at considerable risk.

Should you decide to remove the ceilings yourself, you’ll first want to remove everything from the room you’re working in. Cover the entire floor in plastic sheeting, including the bottom foot or two of the walls. Hang additional sheeting to cover the walls. Use a mister to wet the ceiling, letting it soak in and become soft. Once that has been completed, use a tool such as a putty knife to scrape the texture off the ceiling. Again, this will make quite a mess, with much of the debris falling on you, so make sure you wear protective clothing, including a respirator. Once you’re finished, use the plastic sheeting to wrap up the asbestos debris. This should be placed in a marked asbestos disposal bag, which can be purchased online or at a local hardware store.

Keep in mind that removing asbestos yourself is only allowed in residential, single-family dwellings. If you’re working on a commercial property, or an apartment or duplex, an abatement professional must be hired to do the work for you. You can contact your local EPA office, which can help you find someone who’s licensed.

Once the work has been completed, keep in mind that asbestos debris can’t simply be thrown away. It can only be disposed of at an approved disposal site. Once you’ve chosen a site, contact them directly and ask if they have any specific policies and procedures that need to be followed.

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