Asbestos is a natural mineral. For many years, it was routinely added to bonding materials to create an easily applied paste that could be used for insulation or fire resistance. You are most likely to find it covering the pipes located near steam boilers or hot water furnaces in older buildings.

It is now known that inhaling asbestos fibers causes emphysema, mesothelioma and lung cancer. However as long as asbestos is not shredding or flaking off, it generally poses no immediate threat to you if you are simply touring and inspecting a property.  Just avoid touching the fibers.

If you notice suspicious-looking material that you believe might be asbestos, contact a professional environmental testing firm to investigate. If it is in fact asbestos, it will have to be removed with procedures that conform to federal and state laws. In some states, it is permissible to encapsulate asbestos (wrap it in a plastic-like compound) so that it will not escape.

You may also encounter asbestos-remediation laws that are in effect on the local level. If a community requires a certificate of occupancy to be issued after inspection by a city official, for example, it may well be that a building can fail that inspection if untreated asbestos is there.

Remember, removing asbestos in accordance with environmentally sound guidelines can be very expensive. In fact, removing it from just one residential heating system can run into tens of thousands of dollars.

If a qualified home inspector confirms that asbestos is present in a building you are considering, what should you do? Remember that you can ask the seller to have it removed according to all laws and requirements that are in force – and to provide you with documentation that the job has been done properly.

Some local plumbers and other service people might offer you the option of “making the asbestos go away” for just a few hundred dollars. Letting them do that is not advisable. One reason is that removing asbestos improperly can actually cause asbestos fibers to spread through a building, endangering your health and that of your tenants and future buyers.

If you discover asbestos, the safest solution is often to walk away from a deal and find another property.

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