Asbestos Management and Removal

Managing asbestos at home or at the workplace involves more than simply hiring a company to “scrape out the bad stuff”

Those who have ever had to manage asbestos-related concerns at the workplace or at home know one thing for certain – it is best to leave the entire process to the professionals. While the majority of Americans will go their entire lives without having to concern themselves with the removal or mitigation of asbestos, there is a percentage of the population who will have to confront this toxic substance at some point. The safety and wellness risks are far too great to simply ignore this dangerous compound, and the symptoms of mesothelioma, lung cancer, pulmonary issues, and more can take decades to surface. Once they do, though, it is an extremely difficult battle to fight. Asbestos management and removal must involve a professional organization – one that has been trained and certified to complete the work safely and effectively.

To begin with, hire an experienced company that can help diagnose any potential asbestos-related concerns at work or at home. Unless you have received dedicated training on the subject, there are few visible ways to verify safety when it comes to asbestos. These professionals will be able to identify more than just asbestos-infused building components – they’ll also be able to ascertain the existing condition of the structure and make a determination as to whether or not airborne asbestos fibers are present. Your building might receive a clean bill of health, or it might require abatement or mitigation procedures to minimize the health risks associated with asbestos. An important side note is to hire a company that specializes in inspections, then call upon a different company to complete the actual work – if any is needed. This helps to eliminate any conflicts of interest when it comes to the severity of the asbestos contamination.

If a determination is made that asbestos is a problem, your contractor will typically recommend one of the following courses of action:

  • Removal – this is the most invasive and expensive option, so your hired professional must exhaust all other options before recommending total asbestos removal. If it is necessary, removal must always be conducted by a professional organization that is licensed and trained to complete this dangerous work. One bright side to spending the money on full removal of asbestos – the risk is completely eliminated!
  • Encapsulation – Asbestos is only dangerous when the fibers are inhaled. Therefore, asbestos that is sealed away presents virtually zero risk unless it is disturbed. If fraying asbestos-laden insulation is found by an inspector, he or she may suggest simply encapsulating it to prevent the fibers from escaping and potentially causing harm. A special resin is often used to keep the asbestos locked together.
  • Enclosed – If encapsulation isn’t going to be effective, and total asbestos removal isn’t feasible, a dedicated enclosure can be built that will keep any and all dangerous contents safely locked away. This is an economical and effective alternative to removing the asbestos, and can be completed quickly by an appropriately trained team of technicians.

Managing asbestos and making the proper determination as to whether to remove, encapsulate, or enclose potentially harmful asbestos fibers, is an important consideration to make. Leave it up to a professional organization that has the reputation and experience to get the job done right.

 

Where is Asbestos Found?

Asbestos is used in more than 3,000 products available on the market today – but what are the most common applications?

Asbestos is harmful to humans. Basic scientific research over the past century has uncovered the fact that asbestos is a highly toxic, naturally occurring substance that should be avoided – or mitigated, at all costs. It has been linked to thousands of deaths, many of them due to mesothelioma, pulmonary fibrosis, or other respiratory concerns. Asbestos has been used for thousands of years to reinforce, strengthen, and improve a variety of tools and implements and has literally been poisoning human-kind for generations. It is important to recognize the most common historical applications for asbestos and to clarify where asbestos can be found – all to help minimize the risks to the general public.
While asbestos is a substance that is found in abundance throughout the world, it is incredibly dangerous. Most asbestos mines around the world have been shuttered due to contemporary evidence that points to asbestos as a leading cause of mesothelioma and other health concerns. While China, Russia, and Brazil still mine asbestos with abandon, the majority of nations have passed legislation and building codes that prohibit any unregulated interaction with asbestos. Simply put, asbestos is still prevalent in many structures across the US (and the rest of the world), and the removal of it requires specialized training and a cautious approach to this deadly substance.

Asbestos is found in a variety of places today – but the top ten most common applications for asbestos are listed below:

1. Pipe insulation
2. Wall insulation
3. Wall or ceiling panels
4. Roofing materials
5. Spackling or joint compound materials
6. Brake pads
7. Cement
8. Floor tiles
9. Household items that required heat-resistance
10. Fire doors or furnaces

Asbestos, in a variety of forms, has been used in both civilian and military applications over the years as an insulator, a strengthening material, and as sound deadening. More mundane applications have been in automotive parts – like brake pads (ever heard of Raybestos?), brake shoes, and filters. Today, asbestos may be found in older buildings, where it was likely used in a variety of applications from floor to ceiling. Asbestos was used in the manufacture of vinyl floor tiles, vinyl sheeting, and related adhesives, and as an insulator for under floor pipes and ductwork. Moving higher up the building, asbestos is commonly found in old drywall and joint compound, where it added significant strength and the ideal combination of flexibility and rigidity to withstand shifting foundations. Old residential buildings or commercial locations may contain asbestos-laden countertops or room siding, as the additive dramatically increased heat tolerance in these areas. Looking up to the roof, asbestos was often integrated into roofing shingles, roof felt, sealing tar, and home or building siding. Many electrical wires and hard metal pipes were wrapped or sprayed with asbestos-based insulation, meaning that it is nearly impossible to avoid asbestos in older buildings.

Professionals with High Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos exposure can injure a wide range of working professionals – and it’s more than just asbestos abatement specialists who must remain vigilant.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, more than 75 different groups or trades have actively exposed workers to unsafe levels of asbestos over the past century. While great pains have been taken to limit the dangers of asbestos exposure, there are still those today who are afflicted with mesothelioma, lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, and other ailments as a direct result of asbestos exposure. There are several basic groups to consider when determining which professionals may be at a high risk for asbestos exposure. Those who actively mitigate old asbestos on a daily basis are susceptible to exposure, while those who simply work in buildings that are older than normal may find themselves at risk. Not surprisingly, older areas tend to find higher levels of asbestos exposure, as the majority of buildings may contain dangerous levels of uncontained asbestos. The chart below shows how malignant mesothelioma fatality levels (often an indicator of unsafe asbestos exposure) vary across the US:

The following trades today tend to present a higher than average risk of asbestos exposure than other lines of work:
Airplane mechanics – Though most modern airplanes use mainly asbestos-free components, modern brake pads may still contain asbestos fibers that can be quite harmful if ingested. Mechanics should wear respirators if replacing brake pads or working on brake-related components.

  • Construction workers – While you might think that those in the construction field would have advanced training and an intimate working knowledge of asbestos-related safety practices and protocols, the majority simply do not. That, coupled with the fact that only a small percentage of construction workers actually want to become asbestos-removal techs or experts, and you have a recipe for disaster unless regimented training is introduced. Asbestos can be found in hundreds of products and locations that construction workers face on a daily basis – so these workers must be trained to identify and interact effectively with asbestos.
  • Electricians – One group that is most often affected (usually unknowingly) today is electricians. These hard-working individuals work tirelessly to ensure that we have safe and compliant electrical services whenever we want. In order to maintain and repair existing electrical components, though, electricians often have to work among old, asbestos-laden parts and materials. The exposure is often severe, and the symptoms can take years to present.
  • Firefighters – Though you may think that firefighters approach nearly any dangerous situation with the appropriate protective gear at all times, there are countless instances when our fire-battling heroes find themselves in situations where asbestos-packed buildings are literally falling down around them. Asbestos that is exposed to heat may rapidly release harmful fibers and firefighters don’t always wear respirators.
  • HVAC repair technicians – While modern heating, ventilation, and air conditioning components are largely asbestos-free, most HVAC repair personnel must work within close proximity to old sources of asbestos. Disturbing existing insulation or HVAC components can release incredibly toxic levels of asbestos fibers – yet symptoms may take ten or more years to present themselves. The 270,000+ HVAC techs across the US must take special precautions when working in tight spaces and within old structures.
  • Teachers – How can it be that teachers are at a great risk of asbestos exposure? The answer lies within the aging network of schools across the US. According to the US Department of Education, the average age of a public school in the United States is more than 42 years old. In the Northeast region of the US the average age is over 50 years. This corresponds to the increase in building during the end of the Baby Boomer Generation, and it also means that many schools were built when asbestos was prevalent. Teachers may be at risk when simply interacting with the normal facilities at the school.

There are some trades, like mining or asbestos removal, that can be quite hazardous when under-trained individuals are involved. While most asbestos mining has ceased around the world (China, Russia, and Brazil are still actively involved), taconite and vermiculite mining is still going strong, and these mines can easily see contamination by asbestos. In fact, the town of Libby, Montana is one of the most prevalent examples of this phenomenon – more than 1,000 individuals have gotten sick or passed away due to asbestos contamination, all from vermiculite mining activities. If you feel like you are at risk of asbestos-related injury, contact an asbestos specialist today to investigate your options.

How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace

Managing asbestos in the workplace doesn’t have to be difficult – just rely on a reputable and certified firm to inspect or mitigate any problem areas.

Just when you feel like you have been given too much to handle as the leader of your place of business, remember – you are responsible for the safety and well-being of your staff when they are at work, too! While the majority of safety concerns at work revolve around sprains, strains, paper cuts, and neck-aches, one key element to ensuring that your team mates are safe on the job is the evaluation of the potential for asbestos exposure. Most buildings that were constructed in the past thirty years or so pose little risk of exposing occupants to dangerous levels of asbestos fibers, but the vast majority of commercial sites and public buildings can trace their construction back far more than thirty years. This means that asbestos exposure is a real concern at the workplace, and appropriate measures must be taken to keep employees and contractors safe.

First, there is no simple way for the average person to tell whether their workplace is asbestos-free, or poses no real asbestos risk. This is an area in which a trained expert must be called on to identify the tell-tale signs. Your inspector will establish the age of the building, the heating source installed (many heating units – furnaces, boilers, etc., used asbestos gaskets and insulators), and the general condition of the pipe and wire insulation. The roofing material will be inspected, as well as the current state of repair of drywall, floor tiles, and other critical building materials. An important consideration to make is to hire an asbestos inspector who will not be used to make any potential repairs. This eliminates the conflict of interest that may occur when hiring a contractor to both inspect and conduct repairs.
Keep in mind that asbestos is only really harmful when loose fibers are inhaled. Asbestos doesn’t emit any toxins, rather – the miniscule fibers themselves can get inhaled quite easily and can cause a host of serious health concerns. Asbestos mitigation experts can seal asbestos-laden materials to prevent future contamination, or they can remove the asbestos-based components and replace them with safer, more contemporary parts. Make sure that you do all that you can to keep your employees and visitors safe by contacting a company that is well-versed in analyzing the severity of asbestos exposure in the workplace. Then, contract for asbestos mitigation or removal if the levels are too high and you’ll feel good knowing that you’re protecting those around you.