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We recently had an old furnace inspected and the heating specialist mentioned that he suspected that the heating ducts had asbestos. He suggested painting them as an alternative to expensive removal costs. I'm skeptical.

Has anyone heard of this before? If so, what paint would be useful for this type of application?

-M

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Can you post a picture of the pipes? Are they firm, or is the insulation soft? –  Peter Sep 24 '10 at 19:59
    
@Peter I'll post pictures when they become available. –  Mike B Sep 24 '10 at 22:48
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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Yes. I have heard of that. I believe the main issue with asbestos is when it becomes dust and floats in the air and is inhaled into the lungs. Painting over that seals it in and prevents that from happening. It probably should be repainted whenever it starts to show wear.

You will probably need to use a government certified painter who will use special equipment to prevent the process from filling the air with particulates. (You'll have to check with your local government agency for exact requirements.) Asbestos is a very regulated substance.

The EPA's website has an Asbestos Page that covers the topic from a concerned homeowner's point of view with links and advice:

How To Manage An Asbestos Problem

If the asbestos material is in good shape and will not be disturbed, do nothing! If it is a problem, there are two types of corrections: repair and removal.

Repair usually involves either sealing or covering asbestos material.

  • Sealing (encapsulation) involves treating the material with a sealant that either binds the asbestos fibers together or coats the material so fibers are not released. Pipe, furnace and boiler insulation can sometimes be repaired this way. This should be done only by a professional trained to handle asbestos safely.

  • Covering (enclosure) involves placing something over or around the material that contains asbestos to prevent release of fibers. Exposed insulated piping may be covered with a protective wrap or jacket.

With any type of repair, the asbestos remains in place. Repair is usually cheaper than removal, but it may make later removal of asbestos, if necessary, more difficult and costly. Repairs can either be major or minor.

That page includes a section on "Asbestos Professionals: Who Are They and What Can They Do?". Also, farther down the page, under the heading "If You Hire A Corrective-Action Contractor" (I'm assuming your painting contractor would fall under this heading.):

Contact your state and local health departments, EPA regional office, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regional office to find out what the regulations are. Be sure the contractor follows local asbestos removal and disposal laws. At the end of the job, get written assurance from the contractor that all procedures have been followed.

You should put removal of that onto your "someday list" because that will come up as a negative if you ever want to sell your house.

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@Tester101 - And that would be why the EPA says you need to have a professional who is licensed do it. –  auujay Sep 23 '10 at 20:05
    
When you say "you'll have to check with your local government agency..." are you referring to my regional EPA office? –  Mike B Sep 23 '10 at 20:37
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@Mike B: Town and state, because they will have additional regulations, and the federal agencies delegates authority to them in some cases. For instance, EPA delegates asbestos programs to Massachusetts DEP and DOS. At the federal level, asbestos is regulated by OSHA (worker protection), DOT (waste transportation), and EPA (air pollutants, schools, and commercial buildings). Source: mass.gov/dep/air/asbguid.htm –  Vebjorn Ljosa Sep 24 '10 at 0:10
    
@auujay: deleted my comment, as the expanded answer addresses my concerns. –  Tester101 Sep 24 '10 at 1:23
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I have heard of this as an option, and even the EPA recommends it as a remediation process, BUT only if completed by a licensed contractor.

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So are there people that specialize in painting just asbestos tubes? What qualifications would I want to look for? –  Mike B Sep 23 '10 at 19:59
    
Your biggest things to look for is that they meet the EPA requirements and then just standard reference checking. For this type of specialist work, you are less likely to get "shady" people given the nature of the certification/approval process. –  Mitchel Sellers Sep 24 '10 at 14:49
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