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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
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    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
  • Why do you think there is asbestos there ? About the only way to know is to have it tested Aug 22 at 15:45
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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
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    @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
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    Perhaps anyone who fears asbestos should wear a mask while cleaning the vacuum he used to vacuum the asbestos. Otherwise he risks inhaling more asbestos in the process.
    – sharptooth
    Jul 20 '12 at 7:30
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I dug up a statistic that 2-10% of individuals with heavy occupational exposure contract an asbestos related disease- and it doesn't show up for 30-50 years. This is things like shipyard workers from world war two. Permissible amounts are 1 fiber per cc, so you are breathing thousands per day anyway- it's all around us.

Rules for asbestos workers are another story. Which is why removal by owners is permitted just about everywhere, but the minute you hire someone the rules get really tight. Which is why I personally took care of everything on my boiler piping before it started deteriorating, before I refinished the basement. Garden hose and lots of water on the floor. De-greaser in a bucket of water turns it into paste right away, then wash everything down to the floor, vacuum that (along with deteriorated limestone mortar and other mystery sludge). I'm old enough I'm not sweating this one.

It's a wet/dry shop vac- take it outside run some water though it and forget it.

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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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If I were vacuuming asbestos I would get a 20 foot hose which you can buy from Home Depo on line and put the vacuum outside. Put the hose thru the window and seal it off good. You also need a good respirator too. Not an N9. I go to Crown Cleaning in Orlando. Wear some old clothes you don't care about. Take them off in the shower and bag them tight when you are finished working. Take your respirator off after showering and wiping the bathroom down. Keep you clean clothes in a bag. Can also wipe down hard or non porous surfaces as well. I would wipe down all walls and doors. Don't use the same clothe over and over again. You need to change out to clean ones. You can also clean out ac vents by vacuuming them. You can buy extensions for your wet vac at Home Depo. You cannot get all the asbestos out of clothes by washing them so throw them out. Also consider all appliances and ceiling fans have to go because asbestos will be in the motor. That would mean that your wet vac should go if asbestos is in the motor. That's how I would it.


BTW yes get the material tested they will tell you what percentage of asbestos is in it. Anything less then 1% is considered OK.

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    This is all fine advice, but overkill for what the OP is dealing with. Full safety suits and masks are designed for people that have to work with asbestos for a living. For small amount of time this person was exposed to asbestos, there's no real reason to panic or even worry much at all. Asbestos is bad, but really only with prolonged exposure.
    – DA01
    Feb 3 '15 at 17:32
  • Is it even legal to use a consumer vacuum to vent asbestos dust outside?
    – Johnny
    Feb 3 '15 at 18:03
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Got some old asbestos insulation in my basement, loose on the floor, plan on wetting it and using craftsman wet/dry vac to pick it up, without the hepa type filter so i don't contaminate the dry filter and keep dust down during cleanup and during cleanup of vac. i think this is a good way imo

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There is some truly dangerous advice on this thread. Please go to the EPA website and learn about asbestos, how it can affect the human body (asbestiosis/cancer), and how to properly deal with it (hire a professional asbestos company to take a sample, and to properly clean if the sample is positive).

YOU CANNOT just wipe it up with a soapy cloth, or vacuum it with a conventional domestic vacuum, even one that is marked "HEPA" (like some that are marketed to consumers by popular brands like Shark, or Dyson). Even though some of these consumer vacs may indeed contain a HEPA filter that could theoretically capture an asbestos particle, should an asbestos particle encounter it, these machines are extremely leaky at the seals, which make them about as useful for filtering a life-threatening substance like asbestos as a submarine with a screen door is for filtering out seawater. There are very specific criteria that true HEPA vac's have to meet in order to be used for asbestos vacuuming. I encourage you to not cut corners, even if you're willing to risk your own health, because you're putting the health of your family, neighbors, and future occupants of your house at risk.

Furthermore, consider how much you'd spend if you had a leaky pipe in your house and you needed to hire a plumber. Asbestos is a far graver danger than a leaky pipe, and for a tiny situation like the one described by the original poster, hiring a professional to take care of this will likely cost about as much as a plumber coming to replace a leaky pipe and all the surrounding soggy drywall: they'll assess, they'll create a containment if needed, and they'll vac up all the surfaces.

A small investment in the big picture of life.

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    Look up the SDS for gasoline, then tell me with a straight face you follow its guidelines when pumping gas for your car. Or look up the SDS for rubbing alcohol. As others have said, there is a huge difference between someone who comes across "a little bit of it" "this one time", and workers in industrial settings who are dealing with it day in and day out. The EPA info and the SDS are tailored towards the latter. Yes, the OP should be careful, but it's not like it's Polonium-210 either. Aug 22 at 6:33

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