Ceiling falling apart: safe to breathe?
May 18, 2015 2:00 AM   Subscribe

Pieces of the ceiling in my top floor apartment fell apart, throwing a great deal of what looks like dust or sand into the air. The ceiling is made of plaster, but doesn't have the "popcorn" texture I have heard is bad. Is it likely that breathing this dust is unsafe, e.g. could it contain asbestos?

I'm in Pittsburgh and the house is at least 50 years old but I don't know many details about it. I'm mostly interested in removing my things so I can get dressed and go to work in the morning, but don't want to be rash.

If it could be dangerous, how do I deal with it?
posted by Known Weasel to Home & Garden (2 answers total)
Yeah, it could have asbestos; breathing it a little wouldn't kill you but wouldn't be great just for the dust even. Get your land lord on it. More information on tiles.

The "popcorn texture" is bad just in that it sucks to keep clean and repaint. :P
posted by tilde at 2:07 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is it straight-up horsehair plaster, or is it drywall? If it's horsehair plaster, it is less likely to contain asbestos (but it is still possible to have some if the plaster has been patched over the years, so we would never say never). If it is drywall, there is a small (but non-zero) chance that the drywall itself contains asbestos, and a decent-to-middling chance that the joint compound contains asbestos.

THAT BEING SAID -- there is basically no small particulate dust which is benign when inhaled. Asbestos is a very bad one to choose, of course, but it's not like fiberglass is awesome for your lungs. So I would act to minimize your exposure regardless of whether the material is asbestos.

Suggestions for minimizing exposure, if you absolutely must go in before the material can be sampled: Wait for the dust to settle and wear the best mask you can. (The kind of mask you can buy from Target is not OSHA-approved -- even the "HEPA-type" ones -- because they do not fit well enough. However, they are way better than going in without a mask, so if you have to go in, use one.) Use water to reduce dust -- spray bottles can help wet things down before you touch them. If you need to clean things with dust on them, clean them with water, not air (so dishwasher, washing machine: sure. Compressed air, shaking dust off: no). Don't vacuum unless you have HEPA filters on your vac's air exhaust.

And yes, definitely get your landlord involved ASAP (if they aren't already) and ask them about ACM sampling. If it's a big building or a complex, this may have happened in other units and they may already have sampled those units and have an idea of what is going on. If it's a small building, they probably haven't sampled before and you may need to push them on it. If the material IS asbestos-containing, you want the properly qualified and outfitted folks hired by your rental insurance and/or your landlord to be the ones cleaning it up, not you.

Also, on another note, if only part of your ceiling collapsed, I would also be worried about going in because there is a chance that the remainder of your ceiling may collapse, which is also v. dangerous.

NOTE: I work with asbestos, but I am not your person who works with asbestos; all of this can vary; these answers are semi-educated guesses which only apply to the US as other counties have different asbestos use patterns.
posted by pie ninja at 5:22 AM on May 18, 2015 [10 favorites]

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