Is Asbestos Dangerous When Wet

Is Asbestos Still Dangerous When Wet? The Health Risks Explained

Is Asbestos Dangerous When Wet?

Asbestos is a dangerous material and poses health risks even when wet. The microscopic asbestos fibers can still become airborne when disturbed, increasing the risk of inhaling them and developing asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was extensively used in building materials in the past for its durability, fire resistance, and insulating abilities. However, research showed that exposure to asbestos fibers can cause serious illnesses like mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. This led to strict regulations on the use of asbestos in many countries.

When materials containing asbestos are disturbed, it can release microscopic fibers into the air. Exposure typically occurs when people inhale these airborne fibers, often without realizing it. The durability of asbestos fibers allows them to remain in the lungs for long periods. Over time, the embedded fibers cause inflammation, scarring, and genetic damage that can eventually lead to disease.

Asbestos Fibers Can Still Be Released When Wet

Wetting asbestos aims to keep the fibers contained in liquid, preventing them from becoming airborne. However, asbestos fibers can still be released from wet materials if disturbed or agitated vigorously. Activities like scrubbing, scraping, power-washing, or even removing saturated asbestos materials can dislodge fibers into the air. The water itself also becomes contaminated with asbestos and needs proper disposal.

Asbestos Fibers Don’t Dissolve in Water

Unlike other minerals like salt, asbestos fibers do not dissolve or break down when mixed with water. The fibers still remain whole and potentially hazardous if released from the liquid. Even Thames River sediment containing asbestos fibers hundreds of years old can pose a risk if stirred up according to research. Asbestos maintains its fibrous structure and health risks when wet.

Asbestos Can Re-release Fibers as it Dries

Wet asbestos materials like insulation or cement sheets will start to dry following any leak or flood damage. The drying process can release fibers as the asbestos re-emerges to a dried state. Improper drying also leads to material degradation over time, creating more potential for exposure. Professional asbestos removal follows strict procedures to dispose of wet materials safely before drying occurs.

Microscopic Asbestos Fibers Remain Hard to Detect

Wet asbestos still contains the microscopic fibers that make asbestos dangerous to inhale. When released from water, these thin fibers 5,000 times smaller than a human hair become very hard to detect visually. You cannot rely on only seeing fibers in the air to gauge asbestos exposure. Detecting airborne asbestos instead requires specialized equipment and professional testing.

For these reasons, treating asbestos as safe when wet is erroneous. Precautions are still vital to avoid releasing fibers that could be inhaled. The microscopic size and durability of asbestos fibers means wet asbestos should be handled as carefully as dry until properly disposed of by professionals.

Health Risks from Asbestos Exposure

Inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers can eventually cause toxic effects and serious diseases. Asbestos poses health risks including:

  • Mesothelioma – This is an aggressive rare cancer affecting the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. It is exclusively tied to asbestos exposure.
  • Lung Cancer – Inhaled asbestos fibers are known to increase the risk of lung cancer, especially in smokers. Non-smokers are also at risk.
  • Asbestosis – This chronic disease causes lung inflammation and scarring that worsens over time. It restricts breathing and has no cure.
  • Pleural Plaques – Thick scar tissue spots that grow on the pleura (lining of the lungs and chest cavity). Can cause pain and breathing issues.

These diseases often arise decades after asbestos exposure took place. Once diagnosed, life expectancy ranges from a few months for mesothelioma to only a few years for asbestosis. Even low dose, incidental asbestos exposure can eventually accumulate to cause disease. There are no absolutely safe levels of exposure.

Situations Where Asbestos Exposure Can Occur

Asbestos deposits are found across the world and asbestos has been used in thousands of products. While now banned or restricted in many applications, asbestos can still be encountered in these settings:

  • Older Homes – Asbestos was used until the 1980s in insulation, shingles, siding and many other building materials. Renovations pose a major risk.
  • Commercial Buildings – Schools, offices and factories built before the 1990s can still contain asbestos in walls, ceilings, pipes and flooring. Damage or renovations release fibers.
  • Automotive Applications – Brake pads and older clutches and gaskets contained asbestos that when serviced can expose mechanics.
  • Power Plants – Asbestos was used extensively at power plants for insulation around boilers and pipes. Maintenance workers remain at risk.
  • Naturally Occurring Sites – Natural asbestos deposits are found across states like California and Wyoming. Construction projects in those areas can release fibers.
  • Secondhand Exposure – Handling asbestos materials can release fibers that stick to clothing. Household members of exposed workers were once at great risk.

Recognizing materials that may contain asbestos and using proper safety precautions is key to minimizing exposure from these sources. Never handle suspected asbestos without consulting an expert.

Professional Asbestos Management

Given the hazards wet or dry asbestos can pose, it should only be handled and removed by specialized professionals. Disturbing asbestos unsafely can just worsen exposure. Professional abatement companies follow strict regulations to protect people and property.

Asbestos professionals:

  • Inspect buildings for asbestos and take samples to identify asbestos content.
  • Perform risk assessments to identify hazards and priorities for asbestos management.
  • Develop detailed site-specific plans and procedures for asbestos projects.
  • Use safety practices that isolate the workspace, control air flow and require specialized respirators and protective equipment. This prevents fibers from spreading.
  • Wet asbestos during removal and keep it wet until sealed off for disposal. This reduces airborne emissions dramatically.
  • Dispose of asbestos waste at designated landfills to prevent exposure from dry waste.
  • Monitor air quality during removal and conduct clearance testing afterwards. This confirms absence of lingering fibers.
  • Provide documentation like manifests and permits showing proper transportation and disposal.

Homeowners should not attempt DIY asbestos projects. Likewise, some contractors may cut corners to lower costs, putting people at risk of exposure. Always hire accredited asbestos professionals following asbestos work practices to ensure safety.

Asbestos Removal Tips for Homeowners

If you suspect asbestos at home, don’t disturb it. Follow these tips:

  • Identify suspect materials like old vinyl tiles, insulation and cement products that could contain asbestos. Assume they contain asbestos if unsure.
  • Limit damage and deterioration through maintenance. Don’t break or sand materials.
  • Inspect for damage after any work done at home and look for debris that could release fibers.
  • Consider sealing off damaged areas using plastic sheeting and tape until professional assessment.
  • Get samples lab tested to confirm asbestos content before doing work.
  • Hire a certified asbestos company if removal or large repairs are needed. Require proper protective measures.
  • For minor repairs hire an asbestos-trained professional to use wet methods, protective equipment and proper cleanup.
  • Ensure asbestos waste is disposed of properly. Confirm disposal facility and permits.
  • Consider encapsulation (sealing asbestos with a protective coating) as an alternative to removal where possible.
  • Follow all federal, state and local asbestos regulations which can vary by region.

Trying to handle asbestos yourself without training puts you and your family at risk of exposure. The dangers remain whether asbestos is wet or dry. Safer alternatives are encapsulation or hiring professional asbestos services.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is asbestos so dangerous?

Asbestos is dangerous due to the microscopic size, shape and durability of its fibers. When inhaled, the fibers become lodged in lung tissue where they cause chronic inflammation and scarring over time. This leads to asbestos-related diseases that are often fatal.

2. Is asbestos illegal?

Asbestos is not completely illegal in the US but is heavily regulated. Some specific asbestos-containing products have been banned. Strict rules govern asbestos removal and disposal. Asbestos use in new materials is prohibited.

3. Can you see asbestos fibers?

No, asbestos fibers are invisible to the naked eye. They are around 5,000 times thinner than a human hair. You cannot rely on visibility to determine if asbestos exposure is occurring. Specialized equipment is required to detect airborne asbestos reliably.

4. Does washing asbestos make it safe?

No, washing asbestos does not make it safe. Asbestos fibers do not dissolve or break down in water. They can still be released into the air from wet asbestos materials if disturbed. Handling wet asbestos still requires protective equipment to prevent exposure.

5. Is removing asbestos yourself safe?

Removing any significant amount of asbestos yourself is extremely dangerous and not recommended. The average person lacks the specialized equipment, training and experience needed to prevent asbestos exposure during removal. Always hire certified asbestos professionals.

6. How can you tell if something contains asbestos?

You cannot identify asbestos materials visually. Previously common building products like drywall, tiles and insulation can contain hidden asbestos. The only way to conclusively identify asbestos is through lab testing of material samples, done by asbestos inspectors.

7. Is encapsulation an effective method for asbestos?

Encapsulation involves sealing asbestos material in place with a protective coating rather than removing it. This can be an effective method when done properly by asbestos professionals. It eliminates exposure from deterioration while avoiding risks of removal. Ongoing monitoring is recommended.


In conclusion, asbestos remains a significant health hazard even when wet due to the nature of its durable microscopic fibers. Breathing in these released fibers can eventually lead to life-threatening illnesses for which there are limited treatments available. All asbestos handling jobs, regardless of wetness, necessitate protective equipment and training to minimize risks. Homeowners should refrain from disturbing suspected asbestos materials, keeping them well maintained or sealed off, and only hire accredited asbestos professionals when removal is required. While historically ubiquitous, following proper asbestos safety procedures when identified in buildings can limit exposure and protect health.

External Resources:

Asbestos – US EPA

Asbestos Frequently Asked Questions – US EPA

Asbestos Health Effects – CDC

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Dennis Reed

Dennis Reed Owner and Author @