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If an ordinary shop vacuum has sucked up asbestos, should it be considered unsafe after that and thrown away?

I don't know if this is the right kind of question for this site but I thought I would try.

The story: I was vacuuming some debris from a gap between the ceiling and the wall (brick) to do some insulating. I noticed a spot on the 2x4 at the top of this gap, where a pipe is passing through it vertically, that was splintered and soft. So, I stopped vacuuming and started breaking away the splinters and eventually went all the way through until some loose stuff and a few pieces of what I think are asbestos fell out. Then I realized there could have been asbestos dust there before I vacuumed, from previous work. The building does have asbestos.

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I think I'd be more worried about my lungs than the vacuum –  Steven Jul 18 '12 at 14:18
    
Don't worry too much about your lungs. That small exposure is likely a lot less dangerous to your health than the worrying about it would be. –  DA01 Jul 18 '12 at 21:18
    
@Steven I am more worried about my lungs. –  user16524 Jul 19 '12 at 11:58
    
@DA01 I hope you are right. –  user16524 Jul 19 '12 at 11:59
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2 Answers

I don't think the vacuum is ruined, it just needs to be cleaned properly. Since it is a shop vac just empty the dust out into a safe container, clean the inside of the vacuum out with some household cleaner, and then change the filter. You should be good to go after that.

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Probably a good idea to keep the dust moist to prevent it from flying around. But overall asbestos ain't plutonium. –  Vitaliy Jul 18 '12 at 15:15
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Some asbestos fibers are small enough to pass through the conventional paper filter, so the entire vacuum pump mechanism from the filter support to the outlet grille must be considered contaminated. Not sure how that gets cleaned. More worrisome is these tiny bits passed thru the filter, and got blown all over the room. Now there can be asbestos mixed in with the dust in the whole room, which by now have been tracked elsewhere in the house. –  bcworkz Jul 18 '12 at 17:41
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Yes, one should use a HEPA filter when vacuuming asbestos. That said, for anything that passed through the filter, it likely kept going right out the exhaust. So I wouldn't worry about the motor. If you are, just set it outside and turn it on for 5 minutes. Then go purchase a HEPA filter, install it, and then go re-vacuum the room. –  DA01 Jul 18 '12 at 21:16
    
@bcworkz You have stated all my concerns exactly.I thought the pump should be considered contaminated.The amount of asbestos vacuumed, if any, is unknown. Also any left behind in the pump is unknown. –  user16524 Jul 19 '12 at 11:56
    
@bcworkz You should repost that comment as an answer. –  Jeremy W. Sherman Jul 19 '12 at 15:59
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Some asbestos fibers are small enough to pass through the conventional paper filter, so the entire vacuum pump mechanism from the filter support to the outlet grille must be considered contaminated. Not sure how that gets cleaned. If it can be disassembled, it could be remediated as any other contaminated surface.

More worrisome is these tiny bits passed thru the filter, and got blown all over the room. Now there can be asbestos mixed in with the dust in the whole room, which by now have been tracked elsewhere in the building.

Before we get too excited, get the remaining material tested for asbestos, it very well could be nothing. If it's confirmed to have asbestos, the vac and room should be remediated. You can't just toss a contaminated vac in the trash, it has to be disposed in a proper, documented manner in accordance with your jurisdiction's requirements. The room should be closed to entry until the matter is resolved.

Yes, we are talking about very small quantities, if any. Chances of serious harm are very small. BUT, if just one microscopic fiber lodges in your lung, you may find you have a cancerous lesion in your lung 10-15 years later. This material is not to be taken lightly.

(Thanx to JWS)

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