If your house was built or remodeled in the mid-1970s or earlier, there is a good chance your popcorn ceiling contains asbestos. Asbestos-containing popcorn ceilings are legal if they remain intact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. However, if you need to repair or remove the ceiling, you should seek professional assistance.
The only surefire way to tell if a popcorn ceiling contains asbestos is to have a sample analyzed. Since removing even a small piece of material can raise dust, the EPA recommends property owners hire a professional to take the sample.
While there are few risks associated with intact asbestos-containing materials, removal stirs up the dangerous mineral fibers. Removal without a certified professional is illegal in many public buildings like schools. Private homeowners are not usually bound by the same regulations, but for safety's sake, the EPA recommends that they hire a professional as well.
There are ways to treat popcorn ceilings without removing them. Encapsulated asbestos is safe because it does not produce hazardous dust, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Painting a popcorn ceiling is one way to make it safer. Another method is to cover the ceiling with drywall. Not only does this encapsulate the asbestos, but it also hides the popcorn, providing a smoother, more modern look.