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Your Asbestos Abatement Guide: How to Spot and Remove Asbestos

According to the World Health Organization, 125 million people are exposed to asbestos in the workplace each year. How? Through the presence of asbestos-containing materials in buildings and appliances.

If you've been looking into asbestos abatement for local homes and commercial buildings, no one can blame you. But before you can start the process of hiring a company and getting asbestos removal done, there's a basic question that you'll have to answer:

How do you identify asbestos? And once asbestos-containing materials have been identified, what are your next steps?

We're going to give you some key facts about asbestos. Then, we're going to talk about how to tell if a building has an asbestos problem. And then we'll go over the process of asbestos abatement and removal.

Sounds good? Keep reading.

What You Need to Know About Asbestos

When many people hear the word "asbestos", they immediately associate it with terms like "hazardous chemicals" or "cancer". But the truth is that asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. Here are some key asbestos facts that you'll definitely want to be aware of:

1. There's More Than One Kind

That's right. The substance that's commonly referred to as "asbestos" comes in six distinct forms. These include:

  • Amosite

  • Anthophyllite

  • Tremolite

  • Crocidolite

  • Actinolite

  • Chrysotile

According to Penn Medicine, five of the six asbestos types come from the amphibole family and are characterized by their chain-like appearance.  All of these can cause cancer in humans. And many of them are used in common household items like mattresses and cement.

However, not all asbestos materials are created equal. Because crocidolite is so easy to inhale, researchers believe that it could be the deadliest and most dangerous asbestos type.

2. Mesothelioma Isn't the Only Medical Condition Associated With Asbestos Exposure

At this point, Americans are likely familiar with the link between asbestos and mesothelioma. However, what a lot of people don't realize is that asbestos can also contribute to a range of other serious diseases.

The Cleveland Clinic explains that inhaling asbestos fibers can lead to lung cancer, fluid buildup around the heart sac, and another condition known as asbestosis — a disease that causes shortness of breath and lung scarring.

3. It Resists Heat and Corrosion

With all of the highly publicized health risks associated with asbestos, you may be wondering how it became so common in manufactured goods and building materials. And the answer is that it's because asbestos is both long-lasting and resistant to heat. This has led to asbestos being used in everything from paper and cement products to car transmissions and roofing shingles.

Although the use of asbestos in many products has been banned or regulated, it's still a surprisingly common health and safety risk for Americans.

4. Health Risk Is Determined by Multiple Factors

There's no denying the fact that asbestos is extremely dangerous for humans. But even so, asbestos isn't like some hazardous chemicals that have to be cleaned up and removed immediately. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, factors that can affect your odds of developing an asbestos-related illness include:

  • The type of asbestos fiber

  • How long and how often exposure occurred

  • The number of asbestos fibers

  • The size of the asbestos fibers

5. Some Places Are Regulated More Strictly for Asbestos Exposure

Although steps have been taken to lower the use of asbestos in common goods and construction, there are certain service providers and scenarios that are specifically named in legislation. Some of the main ones are:

  • Schools

  • Workplaces

  • The handling of drinking water

If you own and operate an older commercial building or are a school, to name two scenarios, there are certain steps you may have to take when it comes to asbestos.

6. There's a Level of "Acceptable Risk" With Asbestos

We've just spent a lot of time discussing how dangerous asbestos is. Between the cancer risks and the increased odds of contracting progressive lung disease, you would think that containment measures would be top of mind for everyone.

However, as we've noted in one of our asbestos fact sheets, scientists use an "acceptable risk" standard to address materials like asbestos. What this means is that the odds of contracting cancer from asbestos need to be less than one in a million.

If asbestos-related cancer was to go above the one in a million threshold, stronger measures would be taken until the acceptable risk requirement was satisfied. Even so, however, because asbestos is a health and safety hazard, it's not unusual for people to do what they can to control their exposure.

How to Identify Asbestos in Your Building

Do you have an older building? Are you planning a major renovation?

If your answer to either of these questions was, "Yes.", you may want to check for asbestos. The last thing that you want or need is to saw through an asbestos-covered pipe and release more dangerous fibers into the air.

Unfortunately, asbestos isn't like paint, concrete, or tiling. In the absence of a hazardous materials sign or a warning, there's no way to know if you're looking at asbestos without professional testing.

For this reason, homeowners and building operators are often advised to avoid touching or interacting with materials that are suspected to contain asbestos. However, there are two exceptions:

  • You're remodeling

  • Your building is starting to deteriorate

In these situations, a professional asbestos inspection can save you a lot of grief and heartbreak.

What to Do if You Think Your Building Has Asbestos-Containing Materials

Unlike a crime scene or nuclear site, asbestos abatement doesn't necessarily require immediate hazardous cleaning services. For this reason, asbestos-containing material that's in good shape may be left alone for long periods.

So how do the experts decide if asbestos removal is necessary? They look at the amount of asbestos in the material. And then they figure out if the material is friable, or worn down to the point of crumbling into powder when touched.

If you suspect that there are asbestos materials in your building, resist the urge to scrape or touch it. Follow these three easy steps instead:

1. Look for Signs of Damage

Asbestos becomes more harmful to people as its fibers are released into the air. As such, if you're in an older building or a house that's thought to have asbestos in it, you'll want to visually inspect the property for damage.

A small amount of wear and tear isn't necessarily a reason to be concerned. But if the drywall is starting to crumble, you'll want to exercise caution.

2. Request an Inspection

As we said earlier, you can suspect that a building has asbestos-containing material. Depending on the age of your building and the way it was constructed, you may even have a strong hunch. But without confirmed testing, you can't be sure if you're actually dealing with asbestos.

Fortunately, you don't have to risk your health to get confirmation. You can contact a certified inspector to visit your property, collect samples, and create an asbestos management plan.

If it turns out to be nothing, you'll be able to breathe a sigh of relief. And if the suspected area does contain asbestos, you'll have the information you need to come up with an effective clean-up strategy.

3. Hire an Asbestos Abatement Company

Depending on your agency and the regulations you're required to follow, this is the part where people seeking asbestos removal can sometimes run into trouble. Because asbestos is a hazardous material, you need to dispose of it responsibly. And, in addition, there are regulations around asbestos cleanup and removal that have to be followed to the letter.

An experienced asbestos specialist will be able to walk you through the process while also ensuring that the asbestos is removed in the safest and most efficient way possible.

How Do You Remove Asbestos?

Let's say that you hired an asbestos inspector and the sample has tested positive for asbestos. How will the asbestos abatement team go about removing the problem? Here's a quick overview of the asbestos removal process:

1. The Asbestos Removal and Management Plan

When it comes to asbestos removal, there are a surprising number of rules, regulations, and steps involved. Federal and state governments will often require you to notify the relevant authorities. Depending on the level of damage done to the material, you could be looking at an extended treatment and removal process. The list goes on and on.

Once the removal process is underway, you don't want to be scrambling to figure out your next steps. In the interests of efficiency and compliance, your asbestos removal specialist will likely start things off by creating a customized asbestos removal strategy.

2. Preparation of the Work Area

As the asbestos-containing materials are being removed, there's a chance that dangerous fibers may be released into the air. If an employee or a tenant were to walk near the worksite, they would be at serious risk.

After the strategy has been decided on, the asbestos removal specialists will cordon off the work area. In addition, many companies will put up appropriate signage before the removal is set to begin.

However, asbestos removal doesn't just involve keeping the other building occupants informed. The job site has to be prepared with the safety of the workers in mind.

During the removal process, the team will likely turn off the HVAC while sealing the air ducts. Don't be surprised if the preparation stage takes multiple hours and multiple steps.

3. The Asbestos Extraction Process

At this stage, the contractor will formally begin the process of removing the asbestos-containing material. You'll more than likely see the team coming equipped with protective eyewear, rubber boots, and disposable overalls. Armed with waste disposal bags and tools, like the high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum, and an established area for showering after leaving the removal area, the asbestos removal team will work hard to remove the asbestos.

Depending on the extent of your contract, you may also see them use encapsulation methods and repairs to ensure that the asbestos-containing material is no longer a health hazard.

4. The Followup

At this stage, the heavy lifting has been done and the asbestos-containing material has been removed, patched up, and properly contained. All that's left to do on-site is clean up and ensure that the removal and containment methods used in step three have had their intended effect.

The contractor will likely do another inspection at this stage that involves asbestos air testing and a final examination of the work area. Assuming that state and federal government standards have been met at this stage, the work area will be cleaned up and you'll regain use of both your air ducts and the HVAC system.

5. After the Job Is Complete

In addition to the established rules around asbestos air testing and informing local agencies about getting asbestos removed from your property, there are best practices around asbestos disposal. Your asbestos removal contractor will send you a report of the work that's been completed as well as the testing results.

As with any paperwork related to government compliance, you'll want to keep a copy of these reports for your own records.

Asbestos Removal Best Practices

Even though you and your staff may not be the ones removing the asbestos-containing materials, there are still steps you can take to make the removal process as hassle-free as possible. In our experience, there are several best practices that have helped our clients immensely:

1. Stick to State-Licensed Contractors

In many cases, it's not enough for the company to be familiar with federal standards for asbestos removal and management. States can and do have their own regulations as well. And their standards can differ dramatically.

Here in California, for example, the state has extremely strict standards around the disposal and handling of asbestos. And with the health and safety of your family, staff members, or tenants on the line, you can't afford to work with a contractor that's unfamiliar with your local asbestos abatement and removal regulations.

2. Ask Your Contractor About Their Asbestos Abatement Strategy

This can help you assess whether you've chosen the right company to handle your asbestos removal.

Do they have a HEPA vacuum? What kind of equipment will the workers arrive with? How long has it taken them to complete similar projects in the past?

We cannot emphasize enough that asbestos removal is a high-stakes process. Mistakes at any stage can set you back days or could otherwise leave you with an unusable building. Don't feel bad about asking the hard questions.

3. Get to the Bottom of the Asbestos Contractors Insurance

Any time that you have people doing high-risk work in or outside of your property, you've got a potential liability issue on your hands.

If a worker has a bad fall or sustains a serious injury while on your site, does the contractor have the right insurance coverage?

Due to the nature of the materials being dealt with, asbestos removal is in a class of its own. The company you choose to work with should be fully insured before the job begins.

4. Read the Reviews

Any business can put up a website and make a bunch of claims. But with asbestos removal, the proof is in the company's track record.

How do they handle waste disposal? Are they charging a fair price for the asbestos abatement process? Do they have a history of being careless with safety while doing jobs?

Resources like Yelp and the Better Business Bureau will give you the inside scoop.

5. Do Not Try to Remove Suspected Asbestos Yourself

If the area is small or the repairs seem easy to make, it can be tempting to try and remove the asbestos yourself. After all, getting inspections and repairs done can cost a substantial amount of money.

For the sake of safety, it is not recommended that you touch or handle suspected asbestos-containing material yourself. With hazardous materials like this, it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Why Hire Professional Asbestos Removal Services?

At this point, it's clear that building managers and homeowners shouldn't attempt to remove asbestos on their own. However, the benefits of professional asbestos removal may not be as clear. Here are some of the benefits that our clients have enjoyed while working with us:

1. Compliance With State and Federal Regulations

Asbestos removal may be more than a general safety preference — in some places, asbestos removal is the law. The Vanderbilt Law Review once pointed out that the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 was a federal attempt to mitigate the risk of asbestos exposure to a then-estimated 15 million school-aged children.

On top of regular inspections and asbestos management plans, schools were also required to take certain steps when handling asbestos-containing material.

These legal requirements included asbestos air testing, parental and employee notification requirements, and records maintenance.

Because asbestos removal isn't something that people do every day, the legal apparatus around asbestos management is often foreign. But if there's one thing you can expect from a hazardous cleaning service, it's awareness and compliance with legal expectations.

2. Insurance

It's a grim statistic, but asbestos is responsible for 255,000 deaths each year.

If something goes wrong during your asbestos removal efforts, your organization could be taken to court and sued. Not just by the families of school children who had been exposed, but by staff members and other building occupants.

Whether the concern is insuring the asbestos abatement workers or keeping building users safe, a professional company will come with the right insurance so that you don't get stuck holding the bag in a worst-case scenario.

3. Expertise

Google has given people access to more information at the press of a button than some libraries might process in a year. But while the internet is an amazing resource, nothing beats the one-two punch of education and experience.

If you need open-heart surgery or a brain tumor removed, you don't want someone with a Ph.D. in Google. You want a board-certified surgeon to be handling your operation.

Similarly, because asbestos fibers are airborne and dangerous, you'll want to make sure that the materials are handled and disposed of in the proper manner. From work area marking to packaging and transportation requirements, you'll want to ensure that the asbestos is removed in the safest manner possible.

You could learn about all the rules and regulations on your own. Or, you could let a group of experienced asbestos removal experts handle the process from end to end.

Asbestos Management vs Asbestos Abatement

Depending on the resource you're looking at, you might see government agencies talking about "asbestos management" and "asbestos abatement". So it's worth explaining the meanings of these definitions.

Asbestos abatement involves removing the asbestos-containing materials and/or using encapsulation methods to ensure that it's no longer an active hazard.

Asbestos management, however, is a process that can take place before or after the asbestos has been removed. Why? Because it refers to the strategic work of preventing asbestos-containing material from becoming a full-blown health risk to the people in and around the building.

Hire a Proven and Experienced Asbestos Abatement Specialist

Mesothelioma. Lung cancer. Asbestosis.

Asbestos is a proven health hazard across the world and in America. But with asbestos found in everything from drywall and insulation to cement and roofing, asbestos abatement can help you protect the health of yourself, your staff, and your family.

With such dire consequences on the line, however, don't leave the asbestos removal process to chance. Here at HCI, we offer an extensive list of emergency and hazardous material removal and cleanup services. Contact us to learn more about our waste disposal and transportation services today.

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