The United States government has not yet banned asbestos as a construction material, despite the evidence that the material can cause life-threatening cancers and diseases. Nonetheless, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has implemented several regulations that control how workers and consumers should deal with material in existing properties.
It's often complex and time-consuming to completely remove asbestos in an apartment, so many owners decide simply to paint over asbestos surfaces. If you're one of them, make sure you carry out this work safely, and avoid the five following mistakes other apartment owners sometimes make.
Painting broken surfaces
Painting asbestos surfaces can improve the appearance of walls, pipes and ceilings, and, if you use the right product, you can also extend the life of the material. Nonetheless, painting is not a solution to a problem you may have with a broken or damaged surface. Indeed, painting these areas could increase the risk to human health in your apartment.
Asbestos becomes dangerous when fibers from the material get into your respiratory system. As such, any broken asbestos surface presents a risk to health because it's more likely that somebody will inhale the fibers. Even the act of painting a broken asbestos tile or wall will release an extra amount of asbestos fibers into the air. It's important to remember that scientists believe there is no 'safe' level of asbestos exposure you can cope with, so you should never choose painting as a quick fix to a more substantial problem.
Cleaning with a pressure washer
Before you paint an asbestos surface, it's often important to prepare the area to get the finish you're looking for. If you're about to paint a large area (like a wall or hallway), it's tempting to look for ways to cut corners, but you need to think carefully about safety.
High-pressure water cleaners are efficient and allow you to tackle a large area, but you should never use these appliances on asbestos. The force of the water could break the surface and expose harmful asbestos fibers. What's more, the pressure of the water will disperse those fibers over a large area, making it very difficult to control asbestos exposure.
Wash asbestos surfaces with sugar soap and a soft, clean cloth. Avoid any abrasive cleaning products, and fix thick plastic sheeting with duct tape around the area you are working on to collect any dust or debris.
Cleaning an asbestos surface for painting is a good idea, but over-preparation further increases the risk of harmful exposure to fibers. Use light wet sanding methods where completely necessary, but take care not to damage the asbestos surface.
If you have wallpaper on an asbestos wall, carefully consider if you can simply put new paper on the old surface because it's better to avoid any action that may disturb the surface of the material. If you decide you must remove the old paper, use a steamer that allows you to peel off the unwanted covering. Never use a manual scraper to take off the paper, as you will probably start to take away the top layer of asbestos.
Using the wrong painting equipment
Ask an expert about the best paint to use on an interior asbestos surface. Ideally, you should choose a paint/primer mix, as this cuts the amount of preparation work you need to carry out. Of course, while the paint is important, the way you apply it is equally vital.
Spray painting is an efficient way to cover large areas, but choose a low-pressure, airless gun. Some high-pressure devices may disturb the surface of the asbestos, and you will also find it harder to control overspray. For smaller areas, choose a soft brush or roller, but paint gently to avoid any surface abrasion. Wherever possible, paint over existing paint, as this will further protect you from asbestos exposure.
Unbroken asbestos surfaces don't pose any risk to health, but if you want to paint over these areas in your apartment, you need to make sure you don't accidentally disturb the material underneath. For more advice about working with this dangerous material, contact an asbestos removal expert in your area.