Most buildings and residences built prior to 1980 contain asbestos in some form. For the last thirty years, asbestos has generally been known to be a grave health risk. Long before that, the manufacturers of asbestos-containing materials knew that exposure to asbestos dust had the potential to cause fatal diseases, including mesothelioma and lung cancer. Asbestos is a common element found in a wide range of building materials, including joint compound, also known as mud or drywall cement. Prior to the late 1970s, numerous manufacturers included asbestos in both dry and ready-mix joint compound products.

If left undisturbed, asbestos is generally not dangerous.When home or building renovations take place however, asbestos dust and fibers can become airborne, allowing them to be inhaled or ingested.

In both building and home renovations, it is always advisable to have the premises inspected and tested for asbestos prior to beginning demolition or renovations. Most states do not mandate that owners of residential properties have their homes inspected and abated by a licensed abatement professional prior to renovations. This practice does not decrease the danger of asbestos exposure to those who live in the home. On the other hand, all states require proper and professional inspection and abatement of commercial, industrial and public buildings prior to renovation or demolition.

If there is a question whether a building material, such as joint compound, contains asbestos, avoid disturbing it, and have it properly tested. In New York State, the EPA, OSHA, the New York State Department of Labor, the New York State Department of Health, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation strictly regulate asbestos abatement. Because of the health hazards posed by asbestos during abatement, there are several procedures and steps abatement professionals must follow:

  1. The area where asbestos abatement takes place must be fully vacated, and a licensed professional must post caution signs at all entrances where abatement takes place.
  2. The abatement area must be secured through installation of a project enclosure, barriers that seal-off all openings, including doorways, windows, and ducts using two layers of plastic sheeting with tape to secure all seams.
  3. Prior to abatement, all objects in the area must be removed, and if large objects remain, they must be properly cleaned and covered with two layers of plastic sheeting during abatement.
  4. Once the area has been prepared, abatement professionals can begin to remove asbestos-containing materials from the site. For the protection of the abatement workers, they must wear protective covering, including Tyvek Suits, goggles, HEPA filtered respirators, proper head and foot covering and gloves.
  5. Asbestos-containing materials must be wet thoroughly to ensure that fibrous materials are saturated. Dry removal of asbestos-containing materials is not permitted in the United States as it increases the likelihood that asbestos fibers can become airborne.
  6. Once the area is saturated with water, abatement professionals can then carefully remove asbestos materials into regulated and approved watertight containers that are labeled as hazardous.
  7. Each time a worker exits the work area for any reason, he or she must go through the personal decontamination system and sign an entry/exit log in order to continue working.
  8. Once asbestos materials are placed into air and watertight containers, the workers must properly clean the site and dispose of the asbestos-containing waste materials.
  9. Asbestos waste materials are then delivered to a landfill permitted by the Department of Environmental Conservation to accept asbestos waste.

Asbestos abatement is expensive and can involve a lot of work. Because of the high cost involved, home and building owners may consider encapsulation or encasement of some asbestos-containing materials. Unfortunately, asbestos-containing joint compound was used to fill seams in between pieces of drywall or sheetrock and to cover screw heads throughout the pieces of drywall or sheetrock. Thus, if renovation or demolition work involves any disturbance to a wall with asbestos-containing joint compound, the material should be properly handled by certified asbestos abatement workers.