Asbestos Abatement

Asbestos is the name given to a group of minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers that can be separated into thin, durable threads. These fibers are resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals and do not conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been used widely in many industries.

Chemically, asbestos minerals are silicate compounds, meaning they contain atoms of silicon and oxygen in their molecular structure.

Asbestos minerals are divided into two major groups: Serpentine asbestos and amphibole asbestos. Serpentine asbestos includes the mineral chrysotile, which has long, curly fibers that can be woven. Chrysotile asbestos is the form that has been used most widely in commercial applications. Amphibole asbestos includes the minerals actinolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, and amosite. Amphibole asbestos has straight, needle-like fibers that are more brittle than those of serpentine asbestos and are more limited in their ability to be fabricated

Asbestos has been used in products, such as insulation for pipes (steam lines for example), floor tiles, building materials, and in vehicle brakes and clutches Heavy exposures tend to occur in the construction industry particularly during the removal of asbestos materials due to renovation, repairs, or demolition. Workers are also likely to be exposed during the manufacture of asbestos products (such as textiles, friction products, insulation, and other building materials) and during automotive brake and clutch repair work.

Asbestos is well recognized as a health hazard and its use is now highly regulated by both OSHA and EPA. Asbestos fibers associated with these health risks are too small to be seen with the naked eye. Breathing asbestos fibers can cause a buildup of scar-like tissue in the lungs called asbestosis and result in loss of lung function that often progresses to disability and death. Asbestos also causes cancer of the lung and other diseases such as mesothelioma of the pleura which is a fatal malignant tumor of the membrane lining the cavity of the lung or stomach.

Worker exposure to asbestos hazards are addressed in specific OSHA standards for the construction industry and general industry. These standards reduce the risk to workers by requiring that employers provide personal exposure monitoring to assess the risk and hazard awareness training for operations where there is any potential exposure to asbestos. Airborne levels of asbestos are never to exceed legal worker exposure limits. Where the exposure does, employers are required to further protect workers by establishing regulated areas, controlling certain work practices and instituting engineering controls to reduce the airborne levels. The employer is required to ensure exposure is reduced by using administrative controls and provide for the wearing of personal protective equipment. Medical monitoring of workers is also required when legal limits and exposure times are exceeded.

If removal is to be performed when users are still present in the building, it is usually necessary to relocate some users temporarily. Typically, the part of the building from which asbestos is being removed has to be sealed off in order to prevent contamination of the other areas. Methods of sealing off an area often include the use of Polyethylene film, duct tape and negative air pressure machines which are fitted with HEPA filters. The idea is that the contained area is pulling fresh air in as to not allow asbestos fibers into the surrounding environment.

Only a special vacuum cleaner that’s designed for asbestos containment (class H) can be safely used when cleaning up during and after asbestos removal. Ordinary vacuum cleaners cannot be used, even those fitted with a HEPA filter. An ordinary vacuum cleaner will expel the asbestos fibers into the room air.

  • a. Regardless of how you may feel about a particular contractor, always ask for a list references from previous projects. That list should include persons willing to describe the reliability of the contractor and the quality of work performed by the contractor.
  • b. All asbestos contractors must have an asbestos abatement license and use only certified workers and supervisors.
  • c. You may also want to ask your contractor to provide air-monitoring data from previous projects done in accordance with DEQ requirements. That information can also help you determine if the work habits and general procedures that contractor uses are acceptable.
  • d. All contractors must have written standard operating procedures and employee protection plans which include specific reference to medical monitoring and respirator training programs.
  • e. Contractors must also provide a list of any penalties that the contractor has paid due to not completing contractual requirements, because of cost overruns, and/or liquidated damages.
  • f. Any citations levied against the contractor by any Federal, State, or local government agencies for violations related to asbestos abatement should be identified by the contractor. Included with that information should be the name or project location, the date(s) of the project, and how the allegations were resolved.
  • g. Contractors should also supply a description detailing all legal proceedings, lawsuits, or claims that have been filed or levied against them or any of their past or present employees for asbestos related activities.
  • h. The contractor should also supply a list of all equipment that will be used for asbestos work. That list should include negative air machines, HEPA vacuums, the type of respiration equipment they will use, scaffolding, decontamination facilities, disposable clothing, etc.

The problem with asbestos is that tiny particles can become airborne (float in the air), especially during the manufacturing of products containing asbestos. These airborne particles can then be inhaled which may cause health problems including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. It can affect anyone at any time. Once mesothelioma is diagnosed it is ordinarily fatal in 2 to 4 years once the diagnosis is made. Asbestos removal can be extremely dangerous if not done correctly which makes hiring certified asbestos removal companies, also called asbestos abatement contractors, important.

If you are looking for asbestos removal companies in your area there are a few important guidelines that you should follow before hiring an asbestos abatement contractor. Asbestos removal can be rather expensive so getting quotes from as many asbestos removal companies as possible will help you find the cheapest price. However, in addition to price there are some other important considerations, so price must not be your only consideration when choosing a contractor.

Once you have located several asbestos removal companies that offer lower prices you should check out each one individually. From your list of lower-priced asbestos removal companies choose the one that comes out on top after you have investigated all of them, even if they are not the least expensive. You want to save money, but you also want to hire a contractor that will provide efficient and safe removal and disposal.

Make sure whatever asbestos removal companies you hire will perform the work of removal and disposal as safely as possible. The contractor should be licensed to remove asbestos in your state. Ask for phone numbers of previous clients so you can talk with them about the type of service they received. Asbestos removal contractors will frequently have websites that include testimonials, but viewing these is not enough. It is important to talk with real customers if you expect to get accurate testimonials about these asbestos removal companies.

Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if anyone has lodged complaints against the company and why. It is a simple and quick job to visit the Better Business Bureau website to find any complaints that may have been filed against the company you are investigating. The Bureau will also give a rating from A+ to F for the company. It is usually a good idea to find an asbestos removal contractor that has been in the business for at least several years.

Once you have decided on an asbestos removal company make sure to put everything concerning the job in writing. You want to protect yourself against any problem or discrepancy that may arise in the future. Also, you should pay as little up front as possible. This will allow you to remain in control. Once a company has been paid in full it will be much more difficult getting them to solve any problems that might pop up.

There are specific federal and local laws and regulations that are required to be followed by you or by licensed asbestos removal companies when removing and disposing of asbestos materials. Make sure any of the asbestos removal companies you hire follow these rules. The workers should be wearing respiratory face masks, gloves, and full-body protective clothing when removing asbestos from your home or workplace. After removing asbestos materials they should be placed into sealed containers for transporting to approved hazardous waste disposal areas.

  • a. If hiring a contractor to remove asbestos, the US EPA guidelines for asbestos removal, for protection of the rest of the building, for proper asbestos waste disposal, and any other local or state environmental regulations must be followed. In most areas contractors must be specially licensed (see Asbestos Removal, Certification) to test or remove asbestos from buildings. In some areas it may be legal for a building owner or another contractor to remove asbestos, though still it must be disposed-of legally.
  • b. Do not run a vacuum cleaner or dry-sweep up asbestos debris that has fallen to the floor – you’ll simply cause it to become airborne – a potentially harmful condition. Professional asbestos abatement contractors use a combination of wet mopping and HEPA vacuuming to clean up asbestos from building surfaces.
  • c. Do not disturb asbestos or asbestos-suspect material if you do not absolutely have to do so.
  • d. Seal the work area off from the rest of the building if asbestos material has to be disturbed. Simple poly plastic sheeting and duct tape may suffice, but be sure the duct tape is adhered continuously to the plastic edges and that it binds securely – else it may be necessary to secure the plastic using nailed-furring strips. You don’t want your containment barrier to fall down in the middle of a cleanup project. Use an air-lock and change footwear or take similar precautions so that you do not bring asbestos debris into other building areas on your shoes or clothing.
  • e. Wear an approved respirator, protective clothing, gloves, hat, goggles, that can be disposed-of after the cleanup.
  • f. Wet the asbestos with a hand sprayer when moving it;
  • g. Drill or cut only if it is absolutely necessary, then do it outside (and having wet the material)
  • h. Demolition of asbestos materials during removal should remove the asbestos in the largest feasible pieces, not in many small pieces.
  • i. Bag the removed asbestos in sealed plastic bags and (according to the EPA) dispose of it in an approved land-fill (check with your community building department and your state environmental regulatory association)
  • j. Perform a final cleanup of the work area using wet mops, sponges, disposable rags/ wipes. Do not track wet asbestos-contaminated water into other building areas.

By David Riley
Safety Consultants
Gillette, WY