I had my roof repaired, and in the process much of the popcorn from my popcorn ceiling (built in the 1970s in the US) fell all over my floor. Is it safe to vacuum it up?

What should I do with it?

  • @DanielGriscom Sweeping asbestos is a horrible idea. That increases the chance of it entering your lungs, where it can cause irreversible damage. Aug 9 '16 at 11:26

I recently abated my house's asbestos exterior siding and did a LOT of research before doing so.

The short answer is, don't vacuum it. Use something wet to pick it up (like mopping or a carpet shampoo machine) instead. Mostly, you'll be fine.

I called my municipal inspector, state regulator, and the national advisory council and they all gave me the same answers. They compared the risks of asbestos with the risks of cigarettes. With cigarettes, any given cigarette could kill you. More cigarettes means more opportunities to find "the one" that does.

Asbestos is NOT like that. Asbestos does, in fact, damage your lungs anytime you breathe some, but it's the same kind of damage as typical dust. The problem is ACCUMULATION, not probability.

For more detail, there are three types of asbestos. The smallest kind is too small to do any damage. The large kind is big enough that your body deals with it very well. The medium kind causes problems. So that's most of the asbestos that's not a problem. The remainder will do damage, but it's nothing you'd even be able to measure. The problem is when that damage accumulates from many many exposures over a period of decades.

They gave me 3 pieces of advice.

Firstly, it's not dangerous if you can't breathe it. In most cases, this means it's safer to leave it alone than to try an abate it. In my case, this meant trying not to break the tiles any more than necessary.

Secondly, wearing a mask is really effective. I used a typical dust mask that filtered pollen. You can find more official recommendations for what is rated for filtering asbestos.

Lastly, keeping it wet will keep it out of the air. This relates to your vacuum idea. Using a vacuum will make it easier to breathe the stuff.

My recommendation would be to spray the floor with soapy water to keep it from going up in the air (carpet or hard floor). If it's on a hard floor, just mop it up, dig a hole and bury the sludge that you mopped up. You might throw out the mop, too. If it's on a carpet, I'd use a shop vac to suck up the water. Water, vacuum, repeat until you feel like you got it all. Bury the water if it makes you feel good, but even just throwing it out isn't going to hurt anyone.

Now, there's an important caveat... you need to check the local regulations. Neither the Federal government, nor the state of Texas have any regulations about a homeowner abating their own asbestos. None at all. The only requirements were when I took it to the dump. They just wanted it in marked trash-bags... then it just got dumped in with all the rest of the trash.

Your jurisdiction might have regulations about how you dispose of asbestos as a private homeowner.

The important thing to remember is that it's the lawyers who have made it scary. MOST governments don't have any regulations at all for private owners taking care of their own home. But it's important for you to do your own research. I've done a lot, but I'm not ACTUALLY an expert.

  • I have done some minor removal with a company hired to do the work they really soaked it down with water and double bagged everything. we also wore particulate filters the company supplied and installed a new cartridge every day. The guys that were doing the big stuff wore tyvek jump suits with the legs and arms taped and a small battery powered air filter that covered there head and neck. But this was big stuff that had to be cut off the steam pipes.
    – Ed Beal
    May 9 '16 at 22:23
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    I cannot agree with the suggestion of "just bury it". We spent $25,000 on an environental site assessment to protect us from liability for environmental cleanup. Even if it's "leeeegal" now, it won't be 20 years hence when somebody digs it up... their first question will be "is there any more?" They'll dig up the whole property. And their second will be "who did this?" Cleanup liability laws (of the future) do not feel pity or remorse or fear and will not stop, ever, until you are found and pay. Just dispose of it properly and get chain of custody docs and keep them. May 9 '16 at 22:35
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    @Harpur: Although I agree with not hiding the waste by burying it - In most countries, legislation cannot be retrospective - you can't prosecute an activity that was legal at the time it took place. So a future liability law cant punish you for having done something in the past that was legal when you did it. May 10 '16 at 9:29
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    @mHurley Don't make up bogus scareprices like that. That's cheap arguing and beneath SE. No, you did not get that price from what I said. Disposal is not scary... most local governments have a program to help householders get rid of hazardous waste properly, precisely so you don't get rid of it improperly. Regardless of our opinion, the public thinks it's cootie, and ultimately this is about averting liability (i.e. their wrath). May 10 '16 at 19:41
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    @RedGrittyBrick It can with environmental law, as I learned from our ESA. The long arm is statutory, you're welcome to make a constitutional challenge. But it makes sense: Burying isn't disposal - it's storage. If you bury toxic goop in 1997, you are still storing it in 2016, and 2016 laws apply. You only wash your hands if you can prove a mutually consenting transfer of the goop and associated liability. May 10 '16 at 21:09

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