Asbestos Removal on a Construction Site

The health effects of asbestos became widely known in the late 1970s. Since that time, any building that contains asbestos has presented a special problem for contractors, considering that over exposure leads to a deadly cancer called mesothelioma.. Even buildings that were built after the EPAs crackdown on the use of asbestos are not safe. Contrary to what many people believe, asbestos containing materials are not actually banned. The EPA strongly discourages their use, and asbestos cannot be added to any new materials.

Building materials that previously used asbestos as a component are allowed to keep the same formulation. Because of lawsuits and the general public sentiment regarding asbestos, many companies voluntarily stopped the use of asbestos in their building products. Although the use of asbestos in building materials is not nearly as widespread as it once was, there are still many materials that include asbestos as a component, including wall board, ceiling tiles, pipe wrap and asbestos cement. When you look at the products that contain asbestos it is easy to see why many of the 1.4 million people that are exposed to asbestos are in the construction industry.

The Clean Air Act set in place standards for the removal of asbestos that are aimed at protecting not only construction workers but the general public as well. Some of the regulations of the Clean Air Act prohibit the release of any asbestos particles into the air during removal of asbestos containing materials. The Act also requires that any contractors that work around asbestos containing material wear protective clothing, including a respirator or other breathing apparatus.

While laws vary from state to state on the requirements for removing asbestos from private homes, if asbestos abatement is required in a commercial area, the owner must use a licensed contractor to perform the asbestos removal. A licensed asbestos removal contractor is expected to meet all the requirements of safe removal set out by the Clean Air Act, and can be held liable in a court of law if they fail in their duties.

Choosing the Best Clean-up Method
There are a variety of methods used in asbestos abatement, and it is important to consider them carefully when dealing with asbestos on a construction site. The two methods of dealing effectively with asbestos containing materials are through removal of the product and sealing the product. While there are benefits to containment, or sealing, the asbestos containing material, it is typically not the best choice for a construction site. Containment is less expensive than removal, but, because most construction projects that include asbestos abatement are going to generate trash, removing the asbestos containing material at the time of construction makes the most sense.

The problem with containment as a method of asbestos abatement is that underneath the silicone seal or constructed containment shell, the asbestos is still present. While the fix is less expensive than removal, you are guaranteed that you will be faced with handling the asbestos containing material at least one more time. With removal, you remove all asbestos containing material and have it hauled to the landfill. While it does cost more, you are done with asbestos.

Planning for Asbestos Removal in Your Construction Project
Too often, the owners of a building involved in a construction project consider asbestos removal as part of the demolition process and do not plan accordingly. Asbestos abatement should be treated as its own project that must be completed before construction begins. Because federal law prohibits construction from beginning before asbestos abatement is complete, it makes sense to plan your project accordingly. Asbestos abatement is not a simple project, and should not be confused with demolition. Asbestos containing materials must be removed in a carefully prepared way.

Normally the first step in removing asbestos containing materials is to wet the affected materials thoroughly. This prevents dust from being stirred up during the removal process. The contractors must continually dampen the area as they work to prevent dust from forming. Asbestos containing materials are removed in as large of pieces as possible, and typically sealed in plastic bags. This prevents them from releasing asbestos fibers into the air as the materials dry in the landfill.

The asbestos containing materials are then hauled away to the landfill. While they can be placed in a typical landfill, they are considered hazardous material, and there is normally an extra charge for their removal. Once all of the asbestos containing material is removed from the construction site, the area is thoroughly mopped and the walls are wiped down. During the entire removal process, windows are kept shut and ventilation is not used. This prevents asbestos dust from becoming stirred up. After the cleaning process, which removes the last traced of asbestos dust, large fans are brought into the area and it can be opened up. It is important to thoroughly dry the area before construction begins.

The Asbestos and Mesothelioma Center
Editorial Staff