Contractors often blindly remove asbestos

Posted5/14/2023 6:00 AM

Q: In one of your columns, you stressed the importance of testing for asbestos before removing some types of building materials in older homes. In particular, you mentioned "cottage cheese" ceilings and vinyl flooring.

When we had our ceiling texture removed a few years ago, the contractor said he would test for asbestos, but we have no documentation to show he ever did this. More recently, we had our vinyl flooring removed in the kitchen. The flooring contractor removed the material without any mention of asbestos. Afterward, we had a leftover piece tested and, sure enough, it was found to contain asbestos fibers.


According to the asbestos expert we consulted, contractors do this sort of thing all the time because testing and proper handling of materials are too time-consuming and expensive. Meanwhile, we customers are left to wonder what we're breathing in our own homes. How can contractors have so little regard for the health of others?

A: Contractors who remove asbestos materials without regard to the various requirements for handling, disposal and licensing may believe they are expediting their work in an efficient manner. In truth, they are exposing themselves to more legal trouble and financial liability that they would care to experience. It should be mentioned also some contractors are simply ill-informed of the legal requirements regarding asbestos and unaware of which materials might actually contain asbestos. Many believe, for example, that asbestos products were not available after 1973 -- an urban legend if ever there was one.

Asbestos removal requires licensing in most states and must be done in accordance with safety protocols established by the Environmental Protection Agency and various other bureaucracies. Failure to comply with these requirements subjects the offending contractor to loss of license, major fines and possible lawsuits, especially when occupants have been exposed to asbestos contamination. In the aftermath of inappropriate removal, some homes have been found to be totally contaminated with asbestos fibers. Carpets, clothing and furniture were consigned to disposal at a toxic waste site. In some cases, the full weight of law was brought to bear on the offending contractors.

To ensure the work done in your house left no residual contamination, you can have your home tested by a qualified environmental specialist.

Q: Some of the dual pane windows in my home are foggy because of broken seals. I'd like to have them replaced, but the manufacturer's name is not indicated on any of the frames or hardware. All I can find are generic serial numbers. How can I determine who made these windows?

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A: Off-brand window companies typically omit labeling of their products. This practice is hardly what one would expect from a company that takes pride in its work. A suspected reason for this lack of company ID is avoidance of liability when product failures take place, such as leaking seals.

A local window installer, familiar with this product line, may be able to provide the name of the manufacturer. But don't be surprised if the window maker is unwilling to stand behind their product.

• Email Barry Stone at

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