Asbestos and Lead Paint

In the 1970s the US Congress outlawed the use of asbestos and paint containing lead. However, they let construction companies use up the available stockpiles but no further manufacturing was permitted. This means that any building built since about 1980 is free of asbestos and lead paint. Buildings built before then are almost guaranteed to have both.

Asbestos is an excellent fire retardant. You’ll find it as insulation around pipes, in ceilings (but typically not ceiling tiles), and in floor tiles (all 9X9 tiles have asbestos; 12X12 were invented to replace the asbestos tiles). Lead was put in paint because it helps paint adhere better and it was used everywhere until it was banned.

Asbestos content usually is 2%-5% of the insulation, tile, and ceiling. Asbestos is only harmful if inhaled regularly over a period of several years. The fibers stick together in the lungs and eventually shorten a person’s life. Leaded paint is harmful if ingested because lead causes brain damage. The law does not require either asbestos or lead paint to be removed. They can be left in place and/or covered over.

Asbestos recommendation: I suggest churches have a survey to learn where they have asbestos. The testing is fast and fairly inexpensive. Then I suggest a multi-year plan to eventually remove all asbestos from the building. This means the guys in “spacesuits” will come in for a few days and that part of the building is off-limits.

  • Replace pipe insulation first so that pipes can be replaced as needed
  • Second replace all ceilings with asbestos because gravity makes ceilings fall and so you can access the areas above the ceilings to place wires or HVAC equipment
  • Next remove all floor tiles. Many places cover over the tile but I suggest completely removing the tiles.
  • Finally, remove any remaining asbestos.

Removing all asbestos means you no longer have that headache to deal with in your buildings. It will help all future building renovation and maintenance and make them cheaper and faster. Asbestos abatement isn’t cheap but if done piecemeal over several years, a church can get rid of this problem.

Lead Paint recommendation: lead paint is most commonly found in two places – walls and windows.

  • It is impossible to remove paint from walls without removing the walls themselves and that is cost-prohibitive. The only solution there is to paint the walls every 3-10 years with fresh paint. That not only covers over the lead paint but it gives your building a continually fresh look.
  • For windows I suggest replacing them completely. Getting new energy-efficient windows to replace your old windows will help your utility expenses. The new windows will eventually pay for themselves and eliminate flaking paint chips which could be ingested by children.

Be proactive about your building maintenance. Take steps now so that you will have more options in future years.


Lead On!