Don't Mess With Asbestos
Asbestos is usually found as a white crumbly material wrapped with cloth around pipes or boilers. If you suspect asbestos, do not remove it, but consult a professional. If more than minimal amounts are involved, you are required by federal law to have a qualified person remove it from the house; your health and the health of your neighbors depends on your compliance.
Lead Based Paint
If you suspect lead-based paint take extraordinary precautions, especially with paint dust, even low levels of lead in children can cause permanent brain damage. Lead-based paint has been outlawed but is present in most homes built before 1977. If you are renovating a house that contains lead-based paint, health officials warn that you should not do any demolition while children or women of childbearing age live in the home.
As an adult, you are less susceptible to lead poisoning than are children, but you should still wear a heavy duty respirator.
A lead danger is most likely where old enamel paint on walls and trim has peeled and been ground into dust. The dust is poisonous when inhaled or ingested, as when a child crawls on the floor and then put its fingers in its mouth. The danger can be reduced by carefully sweeping up, vacuuming, and properly disposing of the debris. For disposal call your public health bureau or public disposal facility. Never burn off paint that is suspected of containing lead, and do not scrape it off indoors without extreme care in removing the debris.
Where lead-based paint dust is present, cleanup is essential. Unfortunately, even normal vacuuming is not wholly effective, because the most dangerous and absorbable lead particles are so small they escape through the pores of a vacuum cleaner bag. Use a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate accumulator) vacuum cleaner. Vacuum twice, letting the dust settle after the first cleaning. Then mop with a solution of trisodium phosphate every week for three to four weeks. High phosphate detergent collects lead particles most effectively. If you should need more information on lead-based paint testing, removal, and protection contact your public health department.