Asbestos was often described as the construction wonder mineral, and it was extensively used until the 1980s in a myriad of construction and engineering products in the USA. The mineral is mined, and it has a range of useful properties such as heat resistance, thermal conductivity, and acid and alkali resistance.
Common products asbestos was used in include asbestos roofing sheets, asbestos cement, sidings, adhesive, and popcorn ceilings. One of the lesser-known products is asbestos rope. In this article, we take a look at asbestos rope, what it was, how to identify it, and if it poses any threat to households in the USA.
What is Asbestos Rope?
The asbestos mineral is incredibly malleable and was used in a variety of ways – generally as an additive like in asbestos cement.
However, asbestos rope was made mainly from braided fibres of asbestos and had a high asbestos content. The rope was usually reinforced with other conductive components like steel wire, nickel wire, or copper wire to give it improved rigidity and strength.
It was used primarily as a type of sealant for pipes, machinery, engines, and items in heavy industry. The rope would be created to form a gasket and make a tight seal that could withstand great pressure and strain. Types of asbestos rope include:
Twisted asbestos rope (two or more strands intertwined)
Square asbestos rope (made from long woven fibres of asbestos)
Lagging rope (an outside layer of dusted asbestos and an inside layer of ceramic)
There were also common types of gaskets that asbestos rope was used to make including:
• Asbestos rope gaskets
• Asbestos oval gaskets
• Asbestos spiral wound gaskets
• Asbestos sheet gaskets
When asbestos rope was made into a gasket it provided a flexible solution that could effectively seal pipes and doors of machinery and appliances.
How to Identify Asbestos Rope?
In most instances asbestos rope is used internally so unless the item that it is contained within is broken, you should never really see it. This can make it incredibly difficult to identify but it also means that it is less dangerous due to a smaller chance of exposure.
• Common products that asbestos rope was used in include:
• Electrical power boxes
• Plant and machinery
• Drainage and plumbing
• Window frames
The rope itself is white and we mentioned the different configurations above including twisted, square, and lagging. Before being installed in product it is typically supplied in rolls. Depending on the age of the rope and the machinery or item it is installed in, it could have degraded or be discolored.
Without testing it can be really difficult to properly identify and it’s not really a wise idea to start taking apart appliances or machinery that you suspect could contain asbestos ropes.
When did They Stop Using Asbestos in Rope?
This is the tricky part. Most manufacturers have now abandoned asbestos ropes and gaskets and they use other heat-resistant substitutes. However, chrysolite asbestos is still legal to import in the USA and it is not a banned substance.
Furthermore, it can legally be used to make gaskets and ropes still, however it is not legal to import finished asbestos ropes or gaskets and most remaining manufacturers are foreign. Generally, it is considered that products made after 1990 should not contain any asbestos rope but there is always the possibility.
How to Deal With Asbestos Rope?
Unlike many asbestos-based product, asbestos rope is not commonly found in households and is more an industrial product as opposed to residential. It can be found in boilers and electrical heaters but this is not common and it is more often found in old plant machinery and engineering equipment.
Regardless, if your property was built before 1990 then it might contain asbestos products including ropes in heating systems and plumbing. Therefore, it’s still a wise idea to know how to deal with it and what you can do.
Testing for Asbestos Rope
The most obvious thing to do if you suspect asbestos is to confirm if it is the mineral or not and this can be done with an asbestos testing kit. This can be trickier than testing for other types of asbestos products like insulation and tiles, however, because the rope is usually packed inside objects like pipe joints.
We do not advise dismantling pipes or heating systems to try and obtain asbestos samples using our testing kits. The best way to get samples is if the asbestos rope is seeping out of the sides of the pipe joints which it often does or is exposed.
You can then simply extract a sample using a screwdriver for example without causing damage to the pipes or container. Our kits provide everything you need (except a screwdriver!) including filtered breathing masks, instructions, and sample collection bags. You can then send off the samples using the pre-paid envelope and you should get results back from the labs within 72 hours of receipt.
Removing Asbestos Rope
While the asbestos rope is contained inside something like a pipe it is relatively safe and shouldn’t pose any health hazards. Therefore, you should not need to remove it. It becomes an issue if there are exposed parts of the rope seeping outside.
If these parts break free and fibres are released then it can cause a real health risk. If you want it removed, then you shouldn’t try and do this yourself. Firstly, the rope is typically packed inside pipes so you need some type of plumbing or engineering knowledge.
Secondly, you don’t have the correct gear and PPE so you could be placing yourself and others in danger. Instead, seek the help of a professional asbestos removal service.
Asbestos Rope Maintenance
Due to the nature of asbestos rope and how it is used it is virtually impossible to maintain and repair. If the gasket or seal is not working, then it simply needs replacing with a non-asbestos alternative. If you notice damage to the asbestos rope then now could be the time to invest in a safer replacement.