Environmental Concerns (Asbestos)

The Ancient Greeks named the mineral asbestos, meaning inextinguishable. Apparently even the Greeks were aware of the harmful properties in asbestos and the effects of breathing asbestos dust. The Greek geographer Strabo and the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder mentioned a sickness common with slaves who created cloths using asbestos fibers. Although they noticed this sickness in those who worked with asbestos, they were in such awe of asbestos's magical properties that they ignored this. Used extensively during this time it was seen as a sort of naturally occurring miracle mineral that was used for wicks, table cloths, napkins and a variety of other items. Because asbestos is fire resistant it was common for napkins to be thrown into fireplaces to clean them.

Environmental Concerns (Asbestos) - Northville Michigan Home Inspector - img_55_68_2Over time the mineral was used less and less but made a comeback during the 1800's Industrial Revolution where it was once again seen as a great resource used for high-temperature equipment. For some reason the documented evidence of the harmful effects was largely ignored. I think that's probably because it was a cheap resource that could be used in a variety of applications.

Forward some 100 years to the early 1900's when doctors began to document evidence of asbestos related lung diseases. It was discovered that breathing asbestos over time caused lung disease. As with smoking it's an accumulative effect sometimes taking years to cause symptoms.

Even with proof that asbestos was contributing to lung disease it was yet to see its largest distribution. After WWII the asbestos industry was in full swing. According to the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) , in that time over 100,000 schools and 700,000 public and commercial buildings used asbestos for insulation, decoration and fireproofing.

During a home inspection this week I noticed what I suspected to be asbestos tiles in the basement. Explaining asbestos to my client I glanced up at a return and saw two boxes with extra tiles. Pulling the boxes down my suspicion was confirmed. When you mention asbestos to Environmental Concerns (Asbestos) - Northville Michigan Home Inspector - ar126045074227042a client their eyes tend to widen like they just saw a ghost. The general public knows what asbestos is and what it has done to people but they don't know it's not dangerous if left intact. My recommendation is to avoid removal of asbestos tiles. It's when the tiles are removed the mineral becomes friable.


Asbestos is not always an immediate hazard if maintained in good condition (non-friable) and left alone. It's when asbestos containing materials are disturbed or damaged that it becomes a hazard. Asbestos is made up of microscopic bundles of fibers that may become friable. The term ‘friable’ is used to describe asbestos that can be reduced to dust simply by hand pressure. Sanding, grinding, ripping, extreme vibration, and dry-buffing are some ways of causing non-friable materials to become friable.

I'd be willing to bet at least some of you have removed asbestos tiles during a remodel and thought nothing about it or lived in a home with asbestos. I spent long Summer months at my grandmothers house where asbestos was installed in several areas.

Environmental Concerns (Asbestos) - Northville Michigan Home Inspector - 3563807102_a5130b9be2

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