Asbestos-containing decorative plaster

Last Edited By Krjb Donovan
Last Updated: Mar 13, 2014 03:06 PM GMT

Question

Decorative Plaster w/Asbestos

Hello,

We are remodeling a 96 year old house. The original walls are a horse-hair type plaster - we're assuming (as we've been told by many trades people) that this material is non-hazardous.

However several walls in the house were covered with a coating of decorative plaster sometime later in the house's history. I had all of the deco plaster tested, and all came up negative except for one, which came back as containing 2% (chrysotile) asbestos. Now I need to figure out what to do; this material covers the walls & ceilings in 2 large rooms - my wife wants the painter to just scrape it all off. She is unalarmed by the low % of asbestos in the plaster, particularly since we've already had to abate other materials in the house with much higher percentage asbestos (we had 100 linear ft. of pipe insulation removed from the basement, and are now having 265 sq ft of old kitchen linoleum removed that was tested as containing a whopping 40% asbestos in it). These two jobs have cost nearly $6,000 alone.

So, you can imagine I'm now having a tough time convincing her of the need to professional abate the plaster containing "just" 2% asbestos, in comparison the other materials we paid to abate. There are no children in the household yet, but that is in the plan.

How serious should I be taking this plaster? If we don't have it scraped from the walls and ceiling, the other option is to just paint the walls (live with the deco texture) and then (try) to cover up the ceiling with blueboard.

I am attaching an image of this decorative plaster. The picture is of a sample site where I scraped some of it off, revealing the house's original wall. As you can see, the decorative "skim" in question is a relatively thin layer.

Thanks so much for your advice, Stephen



Answer

Stephen,

It sounds as if you have done your research and are educated on the hazards of asbestos during home renovation. With regards to deco plaster with 2% chrysotile, this most definitely would present a hazard if you were to scrape it by yourself without taking all the precautions and engineering controls associated with a proper abatement project. Plaster skim coat is very friable (crumbly, likely to release fibers into the air) when it is scraped. Even though the asbestos content is just 2%, there would likely still be a significant amount of asbestos release during scraping. I would venture to say that there would likely be more asbestos in the air during scraping a 2% chrysotile plaster skim coat than there would be from peeling up 40% chrysotile linoleum. The degree of the hazard is not just about how much asbestos is in the product, but also the ease with which the fibers are released during the removal procedure. Scraping skim coat will create lots of dust, pulverize the plaster, and easily release the asbestos fibers from the plaster matrix. Linoleum on the other hand usually remains rather intact during removal, and peels back in whole intact sheets. The most fiber release during linoleum removal is usually associated with scraping up any residual paper-backing that is left adhered to the floor substrate.

I would strongly encourage you to retain a professional abatement contractor for the plaster wall scrape. Any building materal with more than 1% asbestos is an asbestos-containing building material. Even for materials that often contain less than 1% asbestos (such as vermiculite insulation), the EPA strongly cautions homeowners against do-it-yourself removal.

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