Removing a popcorn ceiling is one of the first thing a DIYer does to update a home built between the 1950s and 1978. It’s a messy job, but beyond that, it creates a likely danger to the remodeler and anyone who will live in the home.
Several products used to build homes before 1978 contained asbestos, a mineral used for many reasons. It is fire resistant, easily molded into shapes, has insulating properties and seemed to be an almost perfect addition to many building materials. Popcorn ceilings, tape & bed joint compound, shingles, and textures for walls and ceilings were all popular. Asbestos-containing drywall patching compounds were banned in 1977 by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Work that disturbs any potential asbestos materials can lead to serious diseases, such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma – a fatal disease that is only acquired through asbestos exposure. If the structure was built in 1978 or earlier, even 1980 to be safe, any suspicion of asbestos needs to be tested by a professional. It cannot be discerned by a visual inspection.
Why is testing so important?
Asbestos is comprised of microscopic fibers that, when disturbed, can be inhaled. These fibers can remain in the lungs for decades before showing up as a health disaster. Anyone in the vicinity of the fiber dust is susceptible to these diseases. It can circulate through air ducts, land on furniture and clothing, or carpets – anywhere the air takes it.
Testing is not expensive and results can be found within days. It is worth the time and expense to avoid a deadly disease.
What to do when removing a popcorn ceiling
The good news is that undisturbed popcorn ceilings and other asbestos materials are harmless until they are disturbed by deterioration, scraping, sawing, drilling, or any action that releases the fibers. Removing a popcorn ceiling is not a DIY project if it is shown to contain asbestos. That is when a professional and certified asbestos abatement company is required. Many people and contractors are willing to take a risk, but it is a serious and potentially deadly gamble. There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. The CPSC gives four points to consider:
- Asbestos is impossible for a consumer to identify without a microscope.
- It is not possible to know the exact degree of risk with any low-level exposure.
- The product is not the problem, it is the release of respirable fibers.
- Specially trained people are necessary for any removal of asbestos. An untrained person can create more of a hazard than it eliminates.
The bottom line
Asbestos is dangerous when disturbed in any way. Most countries throughout the world have banned its use. The U.S. is one of the few developed countries that has not completely banned the mineral. Removing popcorn ceilings is only one of many threats to health. If you are concerned about this danger that continues to exist, contact you senators, congress persons, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Once a ban is issued, there will still be asbestos in our environment into the next century. We can make a difference, but only if we care enough to contact those who can add us to the list of countries banning asbestos totally.