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In our rental house the furnace ducts are very dirty. We brought an expert to clean it, but he said he just won't do it because the tape around the ducts (in the attic) is probably asbestos.

After notifying the landlord, he got another company to have the material tested. The results came back, confirming that there is indeed asbestos in the tape. However, the test "results" also state that "as the material is on the outside of the ducting/unit, the asbestos material is not being subjected to the furnace air flow, and therefore is not causing a contamination issue, not a reason for concern".

Our concern is with the fact that the guy from the asbestos test company barely took a look at the duct system: he did not look inside the ducts, and did not see an area where the tape starts to crumble (in the attic, outside the duct). All he did was to take sample of the wrap material next to the furnace itself.

The questions are :

  1. How can we know if the system is really safe to use? Is the braking tape a reason for concern?

  2. Isn't the landlord supposed to make sure the heating system is in a usable condition? Currently he says that since the test indicates that this is not a concern, then he won't do anything. Also, he does not want to take care of cleaning it (even tough it hasn't been cleaned in years, possibly decades).

  3. Suppose we do believe the conclusions of the test results. How can we get the system cleaned?

Related question:

Must I remove asbestos from my heating vents?

Edit:

Thanks for all the tips. I don't mind writing the check for a 2nd opinion test, but here's a breakdown of professionals that I spoke with:

  • HVAC cleaning companies: don't want anything to do with it.

  • Asbestos companies: don't understand what I'm talking about, and propose to take more samples and test them.

  • Other HVAC companies: "we don't clean ducts" / "We won't touch anything with asbestos" etc.

Any recommendations on companies that do systematic evaluation of the system (that has asbestos in it)?

  • Even though cleaning the ducts shouldn't release any Asbestos (IF done properly), most HVAC men will turn tail and run if they even hear the word, because they don't want to be responsible. In their mind, it is better lose $120 for a service call than a $120,000 lawsuit. – DarthCaniac Nov 14 '14 at 16:52
  • Tape crumbing in the attic, outside the duct, does not introduce asbestos into the INSIDE of the duct - unless, of course, you start tearing ducts apart. The best way to deal with known asbestos that isn't getting into the air is to Leave It The Heck Alone. Since neither tape nor wrap are used on the INSIDE of the ducts, there's no reason to expect asbestos to be there. – Ecnerwal Nov 15 '14 at 0:49
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I would get an 2nd opinion report. And then based upon that report make a decision on whether to move or not. A report that conflicts with the one that the landlord contracted for should be strong grounds to get you out of any lease.

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If you don't trust the expert brought in by the landlord, then you might want to pay to have your own expert validate your concerns.

As far as to what the landlord does and does not have to do, you'll have to review the lease and laws in your state. At this point, he has paid for a report of a presumed expert that says the ducts are safe as is; it will be difficult to challenge this without an alternative expert opinion.

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The test lab's report, undoubtedly reflects the scope of work for which the test lab was contracted. That was almost certainly along the lines of:

  • Obtain a field sample of the tape.

  • Test the field sample for the presence of asbestos

Given that scope, under the scientific method there is only evidence to support conclusions regarding hazards posed by the tape. The scope of the investigation does not provide a scientific basis for conclusions regarding the overall safety of the system or potential problems with indoor air quality.

The lab delivered what the Owner paid for and did not deliver what the Owner did not pay for. That's the way the lab makes money and retains clients.

If you want an investigation which is oriented toward systematically uncovering unknown problems, you've got to be the person writing the check.

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There are a few routes to consider. (each escalating as you go down)

Get a second opinion

You're concerned the inspection isn't up to snuff and you might be at risk of getting exposed to asbestos. This is a valid concern that shouldn't be taken lightly, asbestos contamination kills people, simple as that.

You need to get a second opinion that YOU pay for. As other's have said if the property owner is paying there is a potential conflict of interest on the inspectors part. (though I doubt many inspectors wouldn't take asbestos seriously, it's just too dangerous legally speaking)

If the second inspection says there is potential for contamination you should have legal guidance and demand termination of the lease without penalty and get out NOW!

Request action taken or let off lease

Simply said, no one told you there was asbestos there. If your landlord is a decent enough person they might let you off your lease early, or if the asbestos is a VERY small amount might take the time to have it properly removed. Either way document what is said here. Just know unless local laws say otherwise the landlord has no obligation to help here.

Consult local building code

If the inspection checks out and you're still concerned or no longer desire to live in a building with asbestos consider getting in touch with local building code enforcement and ask about what the policies are about buildings with asbestos in them.

The rules here vary dramatically from place to place and can get pretty convoluted, but they tend to boil down to three basic plans...

  • Any building with asbestos in it built before a certain date are not subject to code related to the use of asbestos unless certain conditions are met. (essentially conditions with a high likelihood of contamination)
  • Buildings with asbestos in it built before a certain date are not subject to code related to the use of asbestos unless certain conditions are met, but may not be rented, sold, or leased until brought up to code.
  • Use of asbestos is a violation of code and once discovered you have only a set time frame to rectify the problem before you'll start to receive fines.

If your location falls into the first set then code won't be much help, if it falls under the other two you could request an inspection potentially invalidating your lease, and/or getting the asbestos removed.

The Legal Route

Asbestos is taken VERY seriously in most of the US. In many states there are VERY strict laws about what can be done with properties that have asbestos in them. Most states require potential tenants to be informed of asbestos being on the property prior to signing of the lease, failure to do so can make the lease invalid as well as potentially putting the property owner in legal hot water.

Now what YOUR local laws are could vary dramatically, before you say anything about breaking lease, legal action, etc. I would research your local laws and consult with legal representation about what your rights are here. The legal route is simply the least pleasant way of handling this, but if you're risking asbestos contamination your considering frustration against jeopardizing the health of anyone entering your property.

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