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We had A repipe job done on our home 5 years ago. I was stupid and did not research the company before they destroyed drywall thoughout the house. After the pipes were replaced they informed me that they do not repair the drywall and it is my job to do so. My question is that it has been 5 years since this has happened and the drywall is cut out all over the home. since it has asbestos is there a danger to those living in the household? Any comments would be appreciated!

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The real danger was to the guys who cut it out in the first place! Did they know it had asbestos in it when they did this? –  Steven Feb 13 '12 at 13:26
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Wait... You've had holes in your walls for 5 YEARS! –  Tester101 Feb 13 '12 at 17:21
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This sounds actually quite serious. Airborne asbestos fibres (caused by drilling/cutting asbestos-containing material) are linked to serious lung injuries and high incidence of lung cancer. Were you living in the house at the time/after the construction? How do you know there is asbestos? –  gregmac Feb 13 '12 at 17:40
    
There is actually a lot of legislation around asbestos and its safe handling and removal. If anyone was aware of the asbestos but did not deal with it, they are likely in violation of the law and there are serious consequences. It's less clear (in my quick research) in a residential setting who is responsible for knowing there is asbestos (see claimscanada.ca/issues/article.aspx?aid=1000225355). Wikipedia has some background too: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  gregmac Feb 13 '12 at 17:42
    
Thanx to all who answered. Yes the main guy knew about the drywall (I did not until it was over). His crew did not wear ANY protective gear for the job! As to the 5 years (it is a long story but I did just finish the living room area). I was also surprised that the plumbing co was not required to pull permits or have me pull them before they started. I did it after as they told me too. I added this info in case it was important. –  Colleen Hanson Feb 13 '12 at 18:28
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2 Answers 2

OK, let's take about 10 steps back...

  • If you bought this home from a prior owner, did you hire a home inspector? Did that home inspector mention anything about the possibility of asbestos-bearing material? Asbestos in drywall is one I haven't heard before, but before its dangers became known it was virtually everywhere, so it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to hear a house built in the 30s-50s has asbestos-bearing drywall (EDIT: It's not drywall as we know it, but "Transite", used as wallboard in places that needed to be especially fire-retardant, contained asbestos from its invention until the 1980s. The brand name survived, so there is Transite-labelled wallboard available today which does not contain asbestos). If you hired an inspector (it's a good investment; about $100-150 for an extra opinion of the safety and worthiness of the house), and he missed this, I would be looking at a lawsuit. You probably would not have bought this house knowing that every wall is potentially carcinogenic, and to fix the situation correctly is going to cost you, bigtime.

  • You say the plumbing people found out it was asbestos during the job. They can often find this out pretty quick, and any licensed plumber would, at that point, order masks on and get his crew the hell out of that house. This is a HUGE liability for the contractor; anyone who works for him that can link exposure at a job site to health problems can sue his company and him personally if he was their direct supervisor.

  • A permit is basically required by Canadian building codes whenever there is a change to one of the five main components of a house; foundation, structure, electrical, plumbing and HVAC. So, if the OP is from Canada I wouldn't doubt he'd need a permit to replace all the pipes in his house.

  • Your first mistake was in apparently hiring a plumbing specialist directly. If a company "doesn't do drywall", they are a plumbing specialist. There is nothing illegal about that, or about what they did; they assumed that you, in hiring them, were taking on the job of "general contractor" and that you would be managing all the various parts of the project (which includes patching drywall, AFTER having their plumbing job inspected). A better idea would have been to hire a general contractor for any work that involves having to get behind drywall. At least, as you admit, you and the plumber should have agreed on the scope of ALL work to be performed and detailed what necessary work the plumbing crew would not be doing, if any.

  • Asbestos is "ok" to have, as long as you leave it alone. The problem is when you disturb it; it's very brittle material, and breaking it up will release thousands of small fibers into the air, which if breathed in will cause a variety of lung diseases like asbestosis (the asbestos-related equivalent of miner's lung), mesothelioma (a formerly rare lung cancer linked directly to asbestos inhalation), and "vanilla" lung cancers similar to what can be caused by smoking. Asbestos in the drywall itself is very troubling; you risk exposure just by hanging a picture with a nail. If you were in the house at any point during the job, you almost certainly breathed some of it in.

  • The first step to resolving this problem is to document. Find all documentation involving the plumbing job. Hire a general contractor or asbestos specialist to take a look and confirm asbestos-bearing material in the drywall. If you had a home inspection, find the inspector's report and read through it.

  • Asbestos abatement is not cheap. In a case like yours, it's a "level 3" decon, basically amounting to a gut of your house back to the studs, with specialized negative-pressure air handling, decon showers, water misting etc to make sure that the fibers don't get out into the wider environment. The house will be completely uninhabitable until they're done, and it probably won't pass a HUD inspection after that. If your drywall has asbestos, I shudder to think what various types of insulation in this home contain; you may be left with an uninsulated outer skin and stud frame, and - are you sitting down? - it might well be cheaper to condemn, demolish and rebuild the building from the slab than to try to save any of it.

  • It MAY be possible and code-compliant to simply patch the drywall. However, depending on how rough the plumbing crew was, it may require disturbing more asbestos. A good patch job involves squaring the holes that were made, so a square piece of drywall can be cut to fit in the hole, then secured, filled, taped and plastered. The job will need to be done with proper breathing protection, and it will raise more asbestos dust that you will need to eliminate. You may not find a GC willing to touch this job without having ALL the asbestos out (see above), as it's a huge liability to anyone he brings in, and even after he's gone it'll be tough to confirm that the dust is all gone.

  • In all cases, I would hire a general contractor to do whatever work must be done; the general contractor will be able to tell you what disciplines he'll need to bring in and when, will schedule all of them for you, will resolve disputes, and keep tabs of the money being paid. At least, a GOOD GC will. There are guys who will take your money and run.

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While it won't hurt to consider a lawsuit, it likely won't lead anywhere. The inspector will be off the hook (they have fairly details contracts) and the proving the previous owners knew could be difficult. –  DA01 Feb 14 '12 at 5:50
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Also, if there is, indeed, asbestos in the drywall, and you officially know that (via testing or what have you), you are now legally required to report that when you try to sell...and that's going to make it really tough to sell. You might want to start considering a full abatement job--which may or may not be worth it (the alternative would be to walk away) (so +1 for KeithS's comment "it might well be cheaper to condemn, demolish and rebuild") –  DA01 Feb 14 '12 at 5:52
    
The home inspector I hired can be sued in open court if he missed something, and his contract is prohibited by State law from having anything like a binding arbitration clause, and he must carry liability insurance. It depends on the jurisdiction. In some the inspector, like other "hired experts" such as lawyers and general contractors, are liable for failure; in others he's shielded except in cases of gross negligence (hard to prove), and in still others you might as well have your cousin Larry walk through the house for all the ability you'll have to hold the inspector accountable. –  KeithS Feb 14 '12 at 17:13
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I like your region! It's rare to see a place where the contracts favor the consumer these days. :/ –  DA01 Feb 14 '12 at 17:16
    
@KeithS In my area, all of the inspectors I have worked with have a clause that essentially says, if they didn't say if "it" was good or bad then you can't hold them liable for it. The times we can hold them liable for it is if they say "it" is good but ended up being bad. There also appears to be some minimum amount of things that they have to report on, but I am not sure of the specifics of this. –  Kellenjb Feb 14 '12 at 18:32
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To answer the question of danger:

The danger of asbestos is the airborne fibers. When they get in the air, they can eventually get into your lungs, where they become lodged and never leave. Over time (long time) and continued exposure, it can eventually turn into cancer.

So, for asbestos to be dangerous, there are a few variables:

  • it must be airborne (asbestos embedded in, say, floor tiles, wouldn't be all that dangerous--asbestos fibers wrapped around a pipe would be if the pipe is bumped)
  • you must have significant exposure to it (one time exposure via some cut drywall probably will have little to no effect. On the other hand, if you work in an asbestos mine...)
  • it has to manifest itself over time. (A 5 year old breathing asbestos fibers has a greater chance of cancer than a 50 year old breathing asbestos simply due to the time factor)

So, yes, it is dangerous, but not quite as bad as most people think. In fact, in the US, many regions now allow homeowners to deal with small amounts of asbestos on their own.

DIY safety tips:

  • whenever working with potential asbestos laden items, wet the area as frequently as you can. Wetting the area keeps the dust, and therefore asbestos down.
  • Use asbestos rated HEPA face masks.
  • Use asbestos rated HEPA filters in your vacuums.
  • Tape off the room so you aren't contaminating other spaces.
  • Tarp off any material that can collect dust (carpets, for example)

For bigger projects, you absolutely need to look into getting licenses abatement performed.

That covers the basic physical dangers.

On to the economic dangers...

If the drywall does, indeed, contain asbestos, and you now know this, you are legally obligated (at least in the USA) to report this when you go to sell the house. Having a house full of asbestos based sheetrock will make your house unsellable. As such, you likely need to talk to an expert...probably a contractor as well as a lawyer.

You may end up having to walk away from the house as a full-house abatement can be prohibitively expensive. I'd suggest just burning it down to the ground but, well, it's full of asbestos so even that won't work (that's a bit of a joke...don't seriously burn the house down...)

I agree with Keith, though...bring in a home inspector expert first. I can't say I've heard of asbestos being used in sheetrock products, though I'm sure it was at one point. You're also going to want to test other materials...popcorn ceiling finishes, wall insulations, floor tiles, attic insulation, siding, roofing, pipe insulation, etc.

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I would emphasize that a standard HEPA Filter will only grab .3 microns and larger fibers. Asbestos fibers are often much smaller. Most asbestos rated masks grab .01 and larger. I use this whenever working with anything that may have asbestos in it. amazon.com/3M-Face-piece-Reusable-Respirator-Assembly/dp/… –  John Smith Jul 29 '13 at 18:12
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