Stucco has been a popular exterior siding for a long time in North America. Throughout the United States and Canada, millions of buildings utilize both synthetic and traditional stucco systems to keep the elements and pests from getting inside a building. However, depending on when that building was constructed, the plaster layer could potentially contain a poisonous substance known as asbestos.
While modern applications of stucco have no risk of containing asbestos, any building constructed between 1940 and 1990 could have asbestos in the plaster. Here’s everything you need to know about the risk and what to do.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is an organic mineral. Once the fire-resistant properties of it were discovered, asbestos was added to plaster and stucco. It was also used in buildings for electrical insulation. Asbestos plaster was commonly use in office buildings, schools, universities, churches, and warehouses.
What we know now about asbestos proves that some disadvantages outweigh the benefits. The dangers of breathing in asbestos fibers are many. For one, any exposure to asbestos can result in an array of serious, if not fatal, lung diseases, including a rare form of cancer called mesothelioma. However, symptoms from asbestos exposure can sometimes take 20-50 years to develop, so many people don’t know they have been in contact with asbestos until it’s too late.
The one comfort is that asbestos that isn’t airborne in dust is not inherently dangerous. You only have to worry if you plan on disturbing the places where you suspect asbestos to be.
Can Stucco Contain Asbestos?
The simple answer is yes, it can—but only stucco that was applied during the 1900s—a period when the toxic effects of asbestos had yet to be discovered. The earlier years are when asbestos was extremely common, since it was an inexpensive way to increase the durability and resistance of siding. Up until around 1985, fire-resistant walls were produced with asbestos plaster. Nowadays, you will rarely find asbestos being used, if at all.
Here’s the problem: Any plaster with even 1% asbestos is considered a health hazard.
How To Find Asbestos In Your Home
Asbestos can be found in everything from floor tiles to insulation, particularly in the loose attic insulation or in the walls. The problem with locating asbestos in your stucco siding and plaster is that it is so difficult to spot, most people overlook it. Furthermore, asbestos has no smell and doesn’t have a specific feature visible to the naked eye that you can look out for. One of the quickest ways to find out whether your house has asbestos or not is to check the materials used in the composition. Yet, if you live in an older building, finding what was used in construction is next to impossible.
While there is no comprehensive list about what brands and materials could contain asbestos, here are some manufacturers and brands that used asbestos in the past:
- W.R. Grace – used asbestos plaster between 1945 to 1972
- Georgia-Pacific – used asbestos in acoustical and patching plaster between 1950 and 1976
- Synkoloid – used asbestos between 1950 and 1976
- Keene – used asbestos between 1963 and 1971
- National Gypsum – the “Gold Bond” brand plaster had asbestos in it from 1942 to 1972
- United States Gypsum – produced asbestos plaster between 1920 and 1975
This could help you jump-start your investigations.
Asbestos In Insulation & Plaster
If you are afraid that there is asbestos in your insulation or stucco system, you have a few choices. One is to take your chances and leave it be. Remember: Asbestos fibers are only dangerous when airborne. The other option is to take samples of the material and send that off to a special laboratory that handles asbestos detection.
The best option depends on if the material you think contains asbestos is friable or not. A friable material is one that breaks down and disperses particles into the air that you could breathe in. An example is plaster and stucco, since it can disintegrate into dust. Nonfriable items, on the other hand, will not crumble as easily.
When retrieving a sample from plaster or stucco or insulation, be sure to wear a mask that conceals your nose and mouth to prevent inhalation of asbestos particles. Otherwise, you should consider calling a professional. You can contact either the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or American Lung Association to receive information on certified asbestos professionals near you.
If the laboratory that tests you home for asbestos finds that your residence does contain the toxic material, you will need to hire a trained and certified asbestos removal company to come in. They are the only ones who can correctly remove the materials and have OSHA-approved tools to clean up the area.
Many people are concerned with the stucco on their older home containing asbestos, and you might have every right to be worried. Since stucco has been in use for many decades, it is common for asbestos to be used in older stucco systems to enhance the fire-resistance. If you suspect that your home uses asbestos containing material (ACM), now is the time to make the call to an official agency like the EPA to get your stucco, insulation, and plaster tested.