Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Does anyone else find it odd that the Baby Boomers were practically fed asbestos from birth up until their mid-thirties and yet all of them are still going to live forever? Seriously, the Greatest Generation put that stuff in everything. Looking back on history, it’s surprising that they weren’t inoculating their children with lead based asbestos-antifreeze vaccines to protect them against the Commie flu and the Red Death. In the 1950’s and 60’s even the trees were made of asbestos.

The material is not just some new WWII era product that was dreamed up in a Nazi lab by a monocled guy with a pencil thin mustache and a love for giving people too weak to call themselves members of the master race a pesky case of the cancer. No, asbestos has been used in the world for more than 2,000 years. In fact, its name is derived from the Ancient Greek word for inextinguishable.

In those days, slaves wove asbestos into the cloth that they made. They did so assuming that the material had magical properties to prevent people from catching on fire all the time (an apparent problem for a people who’s Gods lived on a nearby mountaintop) and they were in awe of it. It was the space-age polymer of its day and to the Greeks, wine and asbestos were the ultimate shit to have lying around the house in order to impress their friends with.

Even then, asbestos and peoples internal organs didn’t agree. Piny the Elder wrote that many of the slaves succumbed to a “sickness of the lungs” while engaged in their labors but as long as the Greeks and Romans were able to do their dry cleaning by tossing a pile of clothes into a fire and waiting for them to turn white again, everyone was okay with it. In fact, the Romans were so OCD about their asbestos garments that they ironically named the fabric “amiantus” or “unpolluted”.

The material fell out of favor during the Middle Ages when people started wearing more crowns, wizard robes and armor but it soon took off again during the Industrial Revolution. In the late 1800’s it began to be used as insulation for steam engines when they were still being assembled in the Dickensonian factories and before they became Mark Twain metaphors. Pipes, kilns, boilers and ovens were all coated with a thick layer of asbestos and any health risk and cancerous cooties relating to the product were either forgotten or ignored. It wasn’t until the mid 1920’s that someone first thought to ask, “Why is it, that all these dead people have asbestos coated lungs?”

The case that got them thinking was of a woman who expired at 33 after having worked as an asbestos miner ever since the age of 13. A doctor in England, probably named Sir Obvious McNoshit, took one look at her body and then examined everyone else in the mine and said “You all have ‘asbestosis!’” Because of this, laws were passed in Great Britain requiring increased ventilation in the mines and which made “Dying of asbestos” an excuse for not coming into work. The United States followed suit ten years later.

Asbestos continued to be used all the way up until the mid-1980’s when men and women everywhere finally got tired of having to live around a bunch of poison everything all the time. Even today, it can still be found in currently manufactured roofing tiles, brake pads and vinyl flooring. It’s a really good insulator and an absorber of sound and, as of the late 90's (the last time the regulation was reviewed) it was still worth dying for in some cases.

I’m thinking about all of this right now because asbestos has been on my mind a lot here lately. I don’t normally ponder Don Dellilo type scenarios where mass produced consumer goods slowly attack our bodies to death but these days, that’s about all I’ve been thinking of. You see, there’s asbestos in America’s ceilings. It’s right there above our heads, hiding in the form of spray-on popcorn goobers which won’t kill you outright but if you try to remove them they will get inside of your lungs like some self-protecting organism and make you all warty with cancer.

Like I said, this wouldn’t be something that I would normally worry about. I’ve got popcorn ass-beads up on the ceiling of the house that I live in now but I couldn’t really give a shit about them. I don’t intend to do anything with them and their existence doesn’t affect me one way or the other as a person. We live in peace, the popcorn and I. What bugs me now is their presence inside of the house that my wife and I want.

You see, both Dana and I have been looking at the same house since June of last year. It was the one that prompted us to put our own up for sale and ultimately it lit the fire beneath us to try to move ourselves up about a half an inch in status within the world. It’s not the best home on the market but we both like it. It’s actually been delisted twice since the time that we started watching it and now, it’s finally available for a price that we both can live with.

But can we really ‘live’ with this house?

It’s got those goddamned popcorn ceilings and, while I may not care about them being in my current piece of shit home, I don’t really desire them in this one. I mean, if you think that the height of American engineering was the T-top then I’m sure that the blasted ceiling look is totally boss to you. My wife and I though, we want to go for a more modern aesthetic. We’re hoping to live in this place for a while so it’d be nice to not have to be vomiting all over the place at the thought of what’s sitting there right above our heads every single second that we’re in there.

I’m not a big fan of home remodeling but I’m not afraid of it either. My attitude is that if it doesn’t kill me then if I think that I can make it look a little better I’m going to try and fuck it up using some tools and some drywall. The problem is I can’t remove this ceiling without it killing everyone.

Personally, I grew up in a major, industrialized town so I’m not really too concerned about the introduction of even more chemicals into my body. I feel that what’s there is there and anything else is just spice to make my already toxic arteries glow even brighter when they’re placed underneath a black light. It’s my wife and my daughter that I worry about. I don’t want them to become a glowing mutant like me.

If I remove the popcorn, then I’m putting my family at risk. If I leave it, then it’s an eyesore. Of course, I could cover it over with planks, but that might be expensive. I’m not sure what to do about it all.

I guess that we could just walk away from this house (again) and hope that something perfect comes along. Whatever may happen, I really don’t want to corrupt the decision with any biases that I may have. My wife is the one who has the most specific needs in regards to a new home and ultimately, I want this to be her decision. If she’s okay with working around this, then so am I. If she’s not, then we have to keep looking. More than anything else I want her to be happy with where she lives.

My only problem is that I’ve been thinking a lot about asbestos and how my life would be great right about now if it just wasn’t for those goddamned fascist popcorn ceilings.


  1. That really sucks. In our home, the previous owners (who were, incidentally, the original owners -- since 1955) had put up wood paneling everywhere. And we thought THAT was bad. Of course, they also put up some rather ominous-looking floating ceiling tiles that I'm convinced were composed of asbestos. We took the ceiling tiles down (and the wood paneling, natch), but didn't need to hulksmash them, as popcorn ceiling requires, to do so. There are also asbestos tiles in our kitchen floor, which remain buried under layers of tiling, undisturbed.

    All in all, we've done a shitload of work to our place, so I totally understand the desire to alter your potential new home's aesthetic and functionality to your own taste. I've read that those god-forsaken popcorn ceilings are prone to flaking at the slightest disturbance, which almost certainly requires that you bring in a professional to remove it. Has the realtor tested the ceiling to ensure it does indeed contain asbestos?

  2. We haven't gotten it tested. The problem is that it's a HUD home and HUD requires earnest money (which they may or may not refund) before you can do an inspection. The total of that would be about $2,000 so we're a little hesitant towards taking a chance like this with so much money to potentially lose.

  3. Very Educational. If you decide to move into this home you could always take the popcorn down before moving your shit in. That way you don't harm the household and dust all over your things. My dad was a carpenter and did this all the time. Wow and died of Lung Cancer whow - what a concept. But anyway, becareful if you do take it down. You can rent really strong facemask and look like your in a zombie apocolypse while you do so. And if you do - I want to take pictures. LOL... Good Luck and if you need help moving let me know. I can possibly help packing or watching little one.

  4. The house I live in was built in 1807 by a sea captain. Who knows what's in these walls-- asbestos, pirate treasure, the remains of Hessian soldiers, marmots.

    Good luck making this decision. The new big health risk to worry about when buying a house is whether the previous owners were cooking up meth. I think the history of meth should be your next blog post, actually.

  5. In an ideal world - remove the ceiling before you move in. ask the seller's to pay half the cost. have it done professionally.

    If you live in the world most of us live in. Buy the house. Live with the ceiling until you get used to it or you can afford to have the ceiling replaced professionally. UNLESS you're willing to do a professional level job of removing it, DON'T do it yourself. My father had asbestos type cancer even though he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 50 years. He worked in the office of a warehouse. It's nasty nasty dust.

  6. I remember on MySpace that Troy wrote a blog about how he removed a popcorn ceiling. Hey, has anyone invited Troy here??