On the list of perennial homeowner scares, asbestos probably ranks in the top ten. However, if you suspect asbestos in your home, don't be alarmed. Its mere presence doesn't necessarily mean you've been exposed to danger. In fact, if asbestos-containing material (ACM) is in good condition, it is usually best to leave it untouched and simply monitor its condition periodically. ACM removal is a complicated, expensive and hazardous option if not handled properly.
Asbestos is a general term for various types of silicate mineral fibers, such as insulation products, textured paint, and cement shingles, that were once added to construction and maintenance materials to strengthen or insulate. As we all now know, prolonged exposure to asbestos became a severe health risk. When damaged or disturbed, asbestos' microscopic bundled fibers can break apart and become airborne; inhalation of these fibers over a period of time can then lead to cancer and lung disease. Use of asbestos has therefore been drastically curtailed, with many uses banned altogether. Few new products contain asbestos, and those that do contain it must be clearly marked.
You should be aware of older materials around your home that might contain asbestos, and examine them for evidence of damage or wear and tear. You cannot detect the presence of asbestos with the naked eye, but the Environmental Protection Agency's online booklet, Asbestos in Your Home, provides a list of possible ACM and recommended steps for assessing and dealing with damaged material. This booklet also offers guidelines for hiring asbestos professionals for inspection, repair and removal work.