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Return to the main EHSO Asbestos pages
1. What is asbestos?
2. Why is asbestos a hazard?
3. When is asbestos a hazard?
4. How are asbestos containing materials maintained?
5. When is it necessary to remove asbestos containing materials?
6. When is it required to have a building inspection or survey?
7. How is asbestos removed?
8. Where does asbestos go after it is removed?
9. How can I tell if I have asbestos in my Building?
10. Who do I call if I have a concern?
11. Where can I get the training and certifications I need to work with or manage asbestos?
12. Mesothelioma: Facts and Resources - symptoms, treatment, etc.
13. Looking for a Mesothelioma lawyer?
14. Asbestos Exposure: Questions and Answers
Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals. The three most common types of asbestos are:
Asbestos is commonly used as an acoustic insulator, thermal insulation, fire proofing and in other building materials. Asbestos fibers are incredibly strong and have properties that make them resistant to heat. Asbestos is often found in ceiling tiles, pipe and vessel insulation, blown on to structural beams and ceilings, in floor tile, linoleum and mastic.
Asbestos is made up of microscopic bundles of fibers that may become airborne when distributed. These fibers get into the air and may become inhaled into the lungs, where they may cause significant health problems. Researchers still have not determined a "safe level" of exposure but we know the greater and the longer the exposure, the greater the risk of contracting an asbestos related disease. Some of these health problems include:
a) Asbestosis - a lung disease first found in navel shipyard workers. As asbestos fibers are inhaled, they may become trapped in the lung tissue. The body tries to dissolve the fibers by producing an acid. This acid, due to the chemical resistance of the fiber, does little to damage the fiber, but may scar the surrounding tissue. Eventually, this scarring may become so severe that the lungs cannot function. The latency period ( meaning the time it takes for the disease to become developed) is often 25-40 years.
b) Mesothelioma - a cancer of the pleura ( the outer lining of the lung) and/ or the peritoneum ( the lining of the abdominal wall). This form of cancer is peculiar because the only known cause is from asbestos exposure. The latency period for mesothelioma is often 15-30 years.
c) Cancer - caused by asbestos. The effects of lung cancer are often greatly increased by cigarette smoking ( by about 50%). Cancer of the gastrointestinal tract can also be caused by asbestos. The latency period for cancer is often 15-30 years.
Despite the common misconception, asbestos does not cause head-aches, sore muscles or other immediate symptoms. As mentioned above, the effects often go unnoticed for 15-40 years.
Asbestos is not always an immediate hazard. In fact, if asbestos can be maintained in good condition, it is recommended that it be left alone and periodic surveillance performed to monitor it's condition. It's only when asbestos containing materials are disturbed or the materials become damaged that it becomes a hazard. When the materials become damaged, the fibers separate and may then become airborne. In the asbestos industry, the term 'friable' is used to describe asbestos that can be reduced to dust by hand pressure. 'Non-friable' means asbestos that is too hard to be reduce to dust by hand. Non-friable materials, such as transite siding and floor tiles are not regulated by the State provided it does not become friable. Machine grinding, sanding and dry-buffing are ways of causing non-friable materials to become friable.
Friable asbestos can be maintained in place utilizing several techniques. Encapsulation involves applying a thick layer of an encapsulant, much like latex paint, that binds the surface of the material together and prevents encapsulation and routine monitoring are not't enough to prevent damage. When damage occurs, removal may be the best option.
There is no law that says asbestos has to be removed. It is only when the material can no longer be maintained in good condition and /or the airborne concentrations of asbestos are measured to be too high, or when the building is to be demolished or renovated, that removal may become the only option.
In most states, asbestos may only be removed by Licensed Asbestos Abatement Contractors, utilizing Licensed Workers and Supervisors. Many states are stringent in regulating the removal of asbestos containing materials and all projects are usually inspected by inspectors from the State Department of Labor a minimum of three times (Most state regulations, however, do not apply to private residences or multi-family residences of less than 4 units or any Federal Property.)
There are new Federal Regulations that require all material that has not been tested to be presumed to contain asbestos. Only inspection and sampling may rebut the required presumption.
Any building owner who is renovating or demolishing a building is required by Federal law to have their buildings surveyed for asbestos containing materials. Buildings are not permitted to be demolished if there is friable asbestos present. Also, public and private schools, K-12, are required by AHERA, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, to be inspected and have a management plan prepared, which is to be maintained and available for public inspection.
When removal is conducted, a licensed Contractor must notify the State Department of Labor and either the City County Health Department or the State Department of Environmental Quality ten days in advance of removal . Some projects, those involving removal of more than 160 square feet or 260 linear feet of ACM, are required to have a project design, that details how the contractor will perform the removal.
Upon approval from the DOL, workers construct a containment, sealing all possible entries and exits to prevent air from escaping from containment. Containments are maintained under negative pressure and the air is exhausted through special filters that make sure the air exhausted is safe. A decontamination unit is built on to the containment, where workers change into disposable suits and respirators upon entering, and shower out before exiting the work area, so as not to contaminate the area around the containment by tracking out asbestos on their cloths or body. Once the containment is approved by the DOL, the contractor wets down the material, which helps reduce the airborne fiber count. As the material is wetted, it is scraped from the surfaces and collected in specially labeled disposal bags. When a bag is full, it is sealed well, wiped down and placed into a second bag, which is also sealed. The bags are placed in a load-out chamber to await transfer to a specially lined waste trailer. When all the visible material is removed and bagged, the bags are loaded out to the waste trailer and the DOL performs another inspection. (In progress inspections are performed through-out the removal project.) When the DOL Inspector is satisfied with the cleanliness of the containment, the contractor sprays the entire area with a 'lock-down', which seals any remaining fibers, those that are not visible, to the poly. After the clearance monitoring is conducted and the air counts are within the accepted levels, only then is the containment removed and the remaining poly is bagged and disposed of as contaminated waste.
Other abatement techniques, such as removal of pipe insulation via a glove-bag or a mini-containment, are also conducted following procedures outlined by the state Department of Labor's Rules for the Abatement of Friable Materials.
After removal, the sealed bags are transported by a Licensed Abatement Contractor or a Licensed Asbestos Hauler, to an EPA Approved Landfill, where it is buried. Disposal manifests are required to be sent to DOL at the end of each project to ensure the waste arrived at the landfill as required. Anyone hauling asbestos in most states are required to be Licensed as an Abatement Contractor and carry Environmental Impairment insurance to the total of One Million Dollars. Under the authority of the EPA, the state Department of Environmental Quality regulates landfills and maintains a list of landfills approved to take asbestos containing waste.
The only way to tell if a building material contains asbestos is to contact a certified laboratory who can send a Licensed Inspector to take bulk samples. These samples are taken back to the Lab, where they are analyzed under the microscope to determine the content. New OSHA regulations require building owners to presume that any suspect material is asbestos until a laboratory analysis is conducted. Any material that contains less than one percent asbestos is considered non-regulated.
The public may to contact the state Department of Labor concerning any possible asbestos problems, or to obtain a copy of the Rules, Licensed Contractor's List or to become a Licensed Contractor. Call you state's Asbestos Division at (see EHSO's state contacts page) for these requests or to obtain a worker's, supervisor's, Inspector's, Management Planner's or Project Designer's License.
The state Department of Environmental Quality should also be contacted concerning renovation or demolition permits and NESHAPS enforcement.
EHSO training providers around the country can provide the training and certification courses required by federal and state regulations. contact us , or call us at 770-645-0788.