Underestimated exposure to asbestos: Many do-it-yourselfers unknowingly put themselves at risk
"Warning of 'asbestos wave': 9.4 million residential buildings in Germany are 'asbestos traps' when renovated" – this was the title under which the Industriegewerkschaft Bauen-Agrar-Umwelt (IG BAU) recently published a press release and launched an information offensive on the subject of asbestos. Since then, many media have been increasingly reporting on the health risks associated with renovation work – including the Göttinger Tageblatt. In the GT article of August 21, 2023, the Göttingen district master craftsman Christian Frölich has his say and advises not to panic and to consult experts when renovating older houses.
As a specialist in the field of asbestos analysis and with more than 30 years of experience in the industry, we welcome the broad thrust of IG BAU and the current high level of public attention to the topic of asbestos. We can confirm that fear is not a good advisor. At the same time, however, comprehensive information on the hazardous substance asbestos is important to ensure that no one unknowingly puts themselves or others in danger. Therefore, we would like to make a few, from our point of view, important additions to the current reporting.
Asbestos can be released not only during major renovation work
The fact that asbestos fibers can be released into the air and become a health hazard when removing a corrugated roof, replacing insulation material, or tearing down walls is now known to many. But it doesn't necessarily take a major remodel to stir up the building pollutant. Even small cosmetic repairs and typical work when moving into a new home can bring asbestos to light.
Asbestos hazards during home improvement – typical exposure examples.
Whether you've just moved in or simply feel like making a change, people like to simply do small repairs and home improvements themselves. But for houses built before 1993, caution is advised. Here are a few do-it-yourself scenarios that can release asbestos - each with an indication of the resulting concentration of asbestos fibers in the air you breathe:
- Tear off wallpaper - (at 10-20 % surface area) asbestos filler: order of magnitude 5,000 fibers/m³ (see Schäffner, Forum Asbest, HdT Essen 2009)
- Drilling a hole in the wall - asbestos filler: order of magnitude 8,600 fibers/m³ (see Schäffner, Forum Asbest, HdT Essen 2009)
- Drilling a hole in a tile - asbestos filler: order of magnitude 36,000 fibers/m³ (see Hiltpold, Forum Asbest, HdT Essen 2014)
- Knocking off individual tiles - asbestos filler: order of magnitude 77,000 fibers/m³ (see Hiltpold, Forum Asbest, HdT Essen 2014)
- Grinding off asbestos filler - asbestos filler: order of magnitude 1.5 million fibers/m³ (see Dr. Berg, Forum Asbest, HdT Essen 2009)
- Grind off asbestos tile adhesive - asbestos filler: order of magnitude 1.5 million fibers/m³ (see Hiltpold, Forum Asbest, HdT Essen 2014)
In any case, the permissible limit of 500 fibers per m3 of air, as it applies e.g. for a 'clearance measurement' after a refurbishment, is far exceeded. The limit values for work with low exposure at the workplace (TRGS 519) of 10,000 fibers per m3 of air and for work of low scope during remediation (TRGS 519) of 100,000 fibers per m3 of air are also violated in most improperly performed DIY work.
Do-it-yourselfers do not have suitable equipment
Handling materials containing asbestos requires not only the appropriate expertise but also special protective equipment and suitable tools. As Mr. Frölich correctly points out in the GT article, a protective mask and gloves are not sufficient to safely perform activities involving asbestos. In addition, the necessary equipment is usually not accessible to private individuals. For example, H-vacuum cleaners suitable for asbestos are not even available in hardware stores and would cost at least 900 euros. To protect oneself and one's fellow human beings, it is therefore imperative that work on building materials contaminated with asbestos be carried out by qualified specialists.
Asbest steckt in mehr Baustoffen, als viele denken
When people hear the word asbestos, they often think of corrugated roofs, insulation material, or perhaps old night storage heaters. However, the hazardous substance is found in far more building materials. Electrical insulation, tile adhesives, window putty, flooring, plaster, fillers, paints, coatings, fireproofing, pipes, and many other materials can contain and release asbestos as soon as they become friable or are worked on. For an overview of asbestos deposits in the home, check out our interactive infographic: https://www.crb-gmbh.com/en/interactive-graphic
Only a professional asbestos analysis can provide certainty as to whether asbestos is present in your own home. This should always be carried out before changes are made to older buildings - whether major renovation or minor cosmetic repair.
More questions about asbestos and asbestos analysis?
If you have any further questions or would like to be interviewed about asbestos, please do not hesitate to contact us. If you are interested, please contact Dr. Stefan Pierdzig, laboratory manager of CRB Analyse Service GmbH, directly at +49 (0) 5505-9409813 or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.