I'm concerned that the insulation/ cardboard foil that's behind my recessed radiator is asbestos. My house was built in 1960. Does anyone know if they made that stuff with asbestos? Before purchasing my home I had the insulation checked in the attic and also in the old boiler. I was glad to find out that there was no asbestos.

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    As long as the asbestos is contained, there isn't much of a danger. Only when it's exposed to the air and likely to be disturbed and create dust do you need to worry. So if you are planning construction you would want to get it tested. But if you won't touch it ever, don't worry.
    – longneck
    Jul 27 '14 at 15:22
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    @longneck To echo and expand on your comment, IF the foil facing is intact, and there is no sign of friable material that could be spread by the radiator's natural convection.
    – bib
    Jul 27 '14 at 20:23

If it was my house I would not worry about it if it was intact (but I would not disturb it either), significant friable spread by convection alone seems unlikely. If I had kids... better safe than sorry, hire an asbestos abatement firm to test and remove/replace if necessary.

OSHA PEL (Personal Exposure Limit, max exposure over 8 hours on a time weighted average) is 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter, max exposure over any 30 min. period is 1 fiber/cm³.

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    That's really the OSHA PEL for asbestos? It's silly. After 50 years of exposure at 0.1 fiber/cm³, your lungs would look like a gunny sack. Aug 26 '14 at 23:58
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    That's 1/10th (0.1) of a 5 micrometer (micrometer = 1/1000th of a millimeter, or .000039 inches) long fiber per cubic centimeter. But you are right, long term occupational exposure is where the real trouble lies. Aug 27 '14 at 1:19
  • Given that the average person's tidal volume is about 500ml, and we breathe on average about 16 times per minute, that's 8 liters per minute over 50 years comes to roughly 210,240,000 liters (2.1024e+11 cm³) total... yep, over the course of a lifetime, that could represent a huge quantity of asbestos. Aug 27 '14 at 1:58

There's no particular reason that it would be asbestos. Cardboard would work just as well as an insulator behind the foil reflector, and wouldn't be any more of a fire hazard than any other boxes you have in your house.

I'm not making any promises -- asbestos was a Miracle Material when it was new, and was used for all sorts of things that didn't absolutely need it -- but I'd be surprised.

If you're worried, you can have a test done, but that has the downside that (a) once you know asbestos is present, you are obligated to tell any future buyer unless you have properly remediated the problem, and (b) the advice short of that may indeed be "since it's undamaged, just leave it alone and it will leave you alone."

But it may be worth the cost to know for certain, especially if you have young kids in the house who might tamper with it. There are undoubtedly contractors in your area who are certified to deal with this. There are also semi-do-it-yourself test kits similar to the mold tests (use a fan to pump air through a filter, send the filter to the lab and they examine it for any evidence of asbestos), but those can only tell you whether there's a problem now, not whether it's a potential problem for the future.

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