A guy who I’ve helped with renovation work in the past wants me to help remove walls and ceiling tile in a bedroom of a home that was built in 1973. Also removal of drywall and floor tile in a bathroom. He was told by the owner that the bedroom was renovated in the early 90s. I do not know the extent of that renovation. There is a cardboard-y type wall panel material as well as drywall in the bedroom. The ceiling tiles are common looking white with black pitted speckles. I am concerned about asbestos exposure. Is there a protocol that most contractors use in these situations? I’m inexperienced and I really don’t want to risk exposure via all the tearing down of these materials. The guy offering me the work claims there is no concern, initially he told me they stopped using asbestos in the 60s. When I found out it was still in use through 1980 I began to question the safety and would like to know if my concern is warranted. Any insight is appreciated.
I specialize in old houses, and most of the houses I work with have had renovation projects through the years, and the exposure to asbestos is a constant concern.
First, you can test for asbestos. You can take samples and mail them to a lab. Around here, the cost is about $15-@20 per sample, which is not bad. Call the lab and ask for instructions about how to collect, handle, and submit the samples.
Having said that, even if there is no asbestos, removing ceiling tiles and old drywall will expose you plenty of nasty things: fine dust, rat feces (and toxoplasmosis), fiberglass, and even lead in some of the paint layers. This is why on every demolition stage, you should use a P100 mask, Tyvek suit, steel-toed shoes, and gloves. I have become so used to using PPE that I actually feel uncomfortable when not using it. At the end of the job, bag and discard everything except the shoes. It's a small price to pay, you will work more comfortably, your lungs will thank you, and your mind will feel better. It's all win.
If you're really concerned, take samples and send them to a testing lab. That will tell you if there's actually asbestos there or not. (There are DIY test kits, but for this I don't trust 'em. The lead tests are much more convincing, for me.)
Or you can just assume that it's present and take appropriate precautions.
Note that the fact that your friend works without a mask doesn't mean you have to do so; if it bothers him that you want additional protection, he's no friend.
Others have pointed out here that asbestos, like smoke, tends to be a dosage risk rather than an absolute yes/no, and most amateurs -- especially if you seal the area, mask while working, and clean up with HEPA vacuums -- will really not get enough dosage under normal conditions for it to be a major threat. It's still best practice to avoid exposing other people to it, and to limit your own exposure, but it's not as much of a threat as lead paint can be (especially to young children; nerve toxins like lead are especially bad for brains that are still developing.)