The removal of asbestos is necessary for any work place that has products containing this harmful material. Exposure to asbestos might lead to a number of serious diseases including a certain type of cancer known as Mesothelioma or a severe respiratory illness called Asbestosis. If these diseases are not diagnosed early or treated properly, they can be fatal.
While asbestos abatement and removal is essential to protect the health of everyone occupying or using the affected work place, keep in mind that this process is hazardous and should only be conducted by qualified and certified asbestos abatement specialists. Asbestos is a fibrous material and it can be very easy to breathe in its miniscule fibers.
Products that contain asbestos may deteriorate over time and even a crack on their surface can trigger the following: the release of asbestos fibers into the air which is inhaled by people in the office; the transfer of asbestos fibers to other locations outside of the office as it clings to the clothing of employees; and the exposure of workers to a toxin that is potentially fatal.
If you suspect that your workplace is contaminated with asbestos, have a test conducted right away. Although products made form asbestos were mostly used in shipping yards, oil refineries and power facilities, any type of business can be at risk of asbestos exposure since this material was commonly used before on various construction and insulation products. Until the 80s, many buildings were constructed with materials containing asbestos because it was only later that it was identified to be hazardous.
Hire a professional to inspect the workplace and allow sample collection of any item that is suspected to contain asbestos in order to have them tested at the lab. Once the tests are done, the contractor will inform you if you require asbestos removal in your office.
The US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has a sample listing of possible asbestos-containing products or materials. The products and materials on the EPA list were previously made with asbestos so if you have them in your office, it is best to be on the safe side and presume that they contain asbestos and have them tested unless the date of manufacture (not later than 1980) or the manufacturer confirms otherwise.
It is strongly recommended that asbestos sampling is conducted by a qualified professional for the simple reason that asbestos fibers may be released into the air during sampling if it is not done properly, which would only increase health risks for the building’s occupants. It would be best to leave suspect materials alone if you are not sure how to take a sample from it and seek expert help.
If you insist on conducting the sampling on your own, seek advice from the laboratory that will perform the testing regarding the proper procedure of taking a sample including what type of container you should use and the amount of sample needed. During the actual sampling, take utmost care not to let the fibers loose into the air or get onto your clothes or body.
Leave materials or products that are in good condition and/or will not be part of any renovation out of the sampling. Collect samples only from damaged materials or those that are meant to be remodeled. The person who would be undertaking the task should be well-informed about the proper handling of asbestos. At the least, the following actions should be taken:
Ensure that the room is unoccupied during the sampling process. Cover the floor of the area that will be sampled with a plastic sheet. Make sure to put on disposable gloves before sampling and wash hands afterwards.
Turn off any cooling or heating system to prevent the spread of asbestos fibers that may be released during sampling. Take only the necessary sample amount. Spray the material to be sampled very lightly with water mixed with detergent prior to taking a sample. This will minimize the release of fibers.
Use a small knife or corer to gently cut out a piece of the suspect material making sure to cut all the way through the material. Put the sample in a clean container like a film canister or plastic vial and make sure to seal it tightly after placing the sample inside.
Wipe the outside of the container with a damp paper towel to get rid of stray fibers. Make sure to put a label on the container indicating an ID number, the area that was sampled and date the sample was taken.
Cover the sampled area with a tiny patch of duct tape to stop the release of fibers. Clean up the sampled area. Dispose of the plastic sheet used to cover the floor during sampling and wipe around the sampled area with a damp paper towel.
Testing for Asbestos
As per EPA requirements, samples of suspect products or materials should be analyzed for asbestos content using polarized light microscopy or PLM. This method of analysis will show the type of asbestos contained in a sample as well as the percentage of asbestos content, which could range anywhere from 1 to 100 percent for manufactured materials.
The common types of asbestos that were commercially used include Chrysotile or white asbestos (the most common type and used in about 95 percent of all US buildings that has been found to contain asbestos); Amosite or brown asbestos (the second most common type found in construction materials); and Crocidolite or blue asbestos (found in materials designed for specialized high temperature uses). The less commercially valuable types of asbestos are actinolite, anthophyllite and tremolite. Products containing asbestos are made up of individual fibers of asbestos and a binding material.
Because the fibers of asbestos are microscopic, you cannot tell for certain just by looking at a material whether it does contain asbestos. You can verify this only through an accredited lab testing and analysis. Send samples of possible asbestos containing materials to an EPA-certified laboratory for testing.
If it is determined that the room you occupy contains materials made from asbestos, then it is absolutely necessary to hire a professional to deal with the asbestos abatement. Asbestos abatement is the entire process of eliminating or reducing the health risks of asbestos found in a building through a series of steps starting with asbestos removal.
Previously, the typical expert recommendation was to remove all materials in a building that contain asbestos. However, the EPA and other experts recently proposed that the said material could stay in place provided that their condition is good and that there are no strong reasons to get rid of them such as a remodeling project.
In the case of asbestos abatement through removal, the materials are completely removed from the area. A typical example of this is the removal of asbestos pipe insulation and wrapping. Obviously, the advantage of taking the asbestos-containing materials out of the building is that there would no longer be any need to monitor or maintain these materials.
However, take note that complete asbestos abatement is initially expensive because it will also include the cost of replacing the materials that have been removed. Additionally, it is crucial that the process is done properly and carefully with the objective of reducing the chances of asbestos exposure. Hiring a professional to do the removal is strongly recommended.
Prior to hiring an asbestos abatement company, check that it is licensed by your municipality or state to conduct asbestos abatement. Moreover, examine the company’s references and past record carefully for compliance with safety regulations and the building code.
Ensure that the service contract plainly states that the job will be performed in accordance with the law at all levels (federal, state, and local). Also, keep in mind that asbestos removal requires certain tools and gears for safety purposes. Asbestos particles will not be screened out by just a regular renovator’s mask and conventional vacuum cleaners would also not be able to effectively eliminate asbestos fibers that have been released into the air.
For this reason, make sure that the equipment that will be used by the contractors to do job is compliant with federal safety and health standards. Contact the EPA to know more about the proper equipment to be used for an asbestos abatement job.
The area where the asbestos removal will take place should be isolated by the contractor using plastic sheets. To prevent contaminating occupants or other areas in the building, self-contained showers should also be provided by the contractor as well as protective suits that must be disposed of properly after the job. All materials containing asbestos should be placed in a plastic bag. Make sure its proper disposal has been arranged for because it is a violation of the law to dump these hazardous materials in public landfills or garbage dumps.
In the event that you or someone on your staff was exposed to the asbestos before the abatement and removal process, the first thing you should do is to see a doctor. Make an urgent appointment with a physician. Next, you may consider filing a lawsuit against the building’s contractor if they used materials made from asbestos in your office. Find out first what the statute of limitations are for asbestos exposure in your state and if applicable, continue your legal claims.