Why Asbestos is Such a Hot Topic

iStock_000017284969XSmallBefore anyone knew of its dangers, one of the most common uses of asbestos in construction was to act as an insulator. The material is very resistant to heat, and it was frequently employed to protect various parts of a house from fire or heat conducting sources, such as electricity. However, by the 1980s asbestos was determined to be a dangerous substance in many ways and its use was curtailed. The discovery of the associated health issues turned asbestos into one of the more feared substances to be found in a home. Exposure to asbestos can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. One of the most frightening aspects is that exposure and the resulting symptoms can be separated by many years. Along with lead paint, having a home with asbestos can cause some insurance problems that you should be aware of.

It’s pretty common for insurance companies to ask about the presence of asbestos in your home before they decide whether or not to insure it. You might assume this means they are worried about insuring something that can be costly to repair or replace. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In fact, in many, if not most, home insurance policies damages as a result of asbestos or other toxic materials is not covered. You might wonder how this actually applies if asbestos is actually protecting your home and not damaging it.

Since asbestos is no longer allowed to be used as a building material, if there is any damage to your home that requires repair or replacement, the abatement of existing asbestos might be necessary. Absent something stirring it up, in many cases asbestos is allowed to remain in place, so long as it does not pose a health threat to anyone. However, once something exposes previously sealed asbestos, you will likely have to remediate it to prevent further dispersal and potential injury. This is when it can get very expensive and confusing with your home insurance policy.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides good information about what steps are necessary to handle any asbestos abatement. Keep in mind that it’s not only during damage to your home in an insurance claim that can cause asbestos to be exposed. If you are planning on doing any remodeling, the dangers of asbestos should be an immediate concern as you don’t want to disturb something that was previously dormant. Hiring a well-trained professional to assess your potential exposure to asbestos is crucial if you have an older home.

When it comes to insured damage to your home, asbestos removal may be covered under your policy. It’s important to carefully review your policy and determine if there are any exclusions for asbestos removal. In many policies, the word “asbestos” may not be used and something that is broader such as “pollutant” or “contaminant” may be found. If you see these words, it’s a good sign to read the policy more carefully and also to see if the terms are better defined elsewhere within the policy. If you can’t figure it out for yourself, then you should ask the insurance company for an explanation. When there is ambiguity, ask for clarification instead of making assumptions.

Don’t forget that asbestos can be a very dangerous and expensive problem for your home and it’s not always covered by insurance. Take some time to understand any potential exposure you might have in your home and what insurance is or is not available.

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