Sandpaper is a seemingly harmless and very helpful tool in smoothing surfaces and adding finishing touches to the interior of a home, but in some cases, it releases invisible and damaging particles into the air and onto household surfaces. Joint compounds, putties and cement patching products manufactured before 1981 are common sources for asbestos [source: EPA]. With its strength and tight fibers, asbestos was a highly effective mineral for improving the binding and covering properties of materials used in joining sections of wall, ceiling and floor, as well as for smoothing out sections of rough walls or patching holes.
When left alone or covered properly, this asbestos is safe and contained, but something as cosmetic as sanding or as major as structural shifting (over time or due to rehab or earthquakes, for example) can lead to cracks and particle exposure. If you're considering home repair and improvement on homes from the decades before the mid-1980s, an inspector can perform sample tests to detect asbestos that might lie beneath the surface.