What is the Asbestos Abatement Removal Process?

Of all the respiratory illnesses that are on our minds at the moment, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases probably aren't high on the list.

On the other hand, DIY everything is more popular than ever as we've found ourselves homebound and bored out of our skulls.

If you live in a building from a certain era, there's one thing you need to keep in mind before you bust out the toolbelt, and that's the possibility of asbestos exposure.

It's as invisible a threat as COVID-19. Like coronavirus, you might not even know when you're putting yourself at risk. But instead of it taking weeks to feel the effects, it might take years.

To continue the pandemic parallels, with asbestos exposure, it's all about prevention. It's also critical to listen to professionals and rely on their expertise.

In the case of asbestos, however, the professionals in question are asbestos abatement companies.

What Is Asbestos Abatement?

Asbestos abatement is the process of eliminating the threat of asbestos exposure. That often means the removal of asbestos from a structure. Alternatively, it may mean encapsulation, in which asbestos is left in place but covered with a protective barrier.

The term "asbestos remediation" is sometimes used interchangeably with asbestos abatement.

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How Do You Know If You Need Asbestos Abatement?

Whether you're dealing with renovations or the aftermath of a disaster that disturbed a building's structure, you should at least consult a professional.

Any building erected or remodeled between 1870 and 1990 is highly likely to have asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). Asbestos was used in so many building components before its partial ban in 1989 that it's tough to say what's safe and what's not.

To give you an idea of how pervasive asbestos was, examples of ACMs include drywall, cement sheets, roof shingles, siding, plaster, putty, caulking, popcorn ceilings, insulation, ceiling tiles, plumbing fixtures, pipe or duct coverings, and more.

There's no guarantee you'll be able to recognize the presence of asbestos, either. The fibers can be visible in certain materials, but not in others. Asbestos fibers can be 18,000 times thinner than a human hair. Only professional lab testing can determine the presence of asbestos for certain.

While any project in an asbestos-era building could put you at risk, some activities are more likely to lead to asbestos exposure. That includes sanding, sawing, and any other process that breaks up or compromises the integrity of a material that might contain asbestos. These activities release microscopic asbestos fibers into the air.

And once you breathe them in, they stay in your lungs and cause trouble.

Asbestos in the lungs causes long-term inflammation and scarring, leading to chronic breathing problems and increased susceptibility to infectious respiratory diseases. There's no cure.

Ultimately, asbestos exposure can result in serious fatal conditions like mesothelioma, other types of lung cancer, and pulmonary heart disease.

Asbestos Abatement Procedure

The steps that must be taken to prevent deadly exposure during and after any work on ACMs are complicated and require specialized equipment. It's best to leave it up to professionals.

If you suspect asbestos, it's best to leave the material intact until you can have it tested. If you've already disrupted suspicious materials, it's important to leave them alone until you can be sure. That means no sweeping, vacuuming, or dusting. Seal off the room, if at all possible, and call a licensed asbestos removal company.

Finding the Right Asbestos Abatement Professionals

Asbestos remediation projects vary based on the scope of the project, the type of ACMs, and other factors. This means that asbestos abatement companies also vary.

Some only do asbestos abatement, while others offer asbestos removal as part of a larger menu of remediation services. Another difference is between companies that only handle removal of asbestos versus those that also offer demolition or general contracting afterward. Some companies can repair ACMs instead of removing them.

Choosing a company with the right services will impact the quality and cost of your project, but so will their levels of expertise and safety precautions.

Regulations regarding asbestos abatement vary on the state and city level. Make sure you're hiring someone who not only meets local regulations but meets best practices for keeping everyone safe.

Research the asbestos abatement professionals available to you, paying attention to their services, safety practices, regulatory compliance, and reputation. Ask for references from previous clients and be aware of the paperwork and precautions that any reputable asbestos remediation company will provide.

Getting an On-Site Evaluation and a Contract in Writing

Before any work begins, a prospective abatement contractor will perform an on-site evaluation in which they inspect for potential ACMs and take samples for lab analysis.

Once the lab results reveal the extent of the problem, they should be able to tell you in detail how they'll set up for the asbestos removal process, as well as the cost and timeline to complete the job.

They should also provide all of this in writing, including an accounting of all laws they must obey during asbestos abatement.

Knowing What to Expect from Proper Asbestos Abatement Procedures

During asbestos abatement, the work area will become authorized personnel only, so you'll need to make alternate arrangements for any residents or regular workers. Make sure you understand the extent of the off-limits area ahead of time.

The contractor will set up work areas that are clearly marked as hazardous. The containment area is where the asbestos removal work will take place, but there will also be a three-stage decontamination area for anyone coming out of the containment area – a dirty room, a shower area, and a cleanroom.

These work areas will be sealed off with thick plastic sheets, air ducts will be sealed, HVAC systems disabled, and a negative pressure system with a HEPA filter will be established. All of these measures serve to contain any asbestos dust within the work areas.

Asbestos workers need protective equipment to avoid exposure, themselves. This includes a special respirator over the nose and mouth, as well as goggles, disposable gloves and coveralls, and rubber boots.

The removal of asbestos-containing materials will vary based on the type of product because some materials are more "friable" (or likely to break and release asbestos fibers) than others. Common methods include wetting materials to reduce airborne dust and using a specially rated HEPA vacuum (not just the kind allergy sufferers use on their carpets).

All ACMs should be placed in sealed, leak-proof containers while wet. Then they're clearly labeled, stored in a special dumpster, and finally, taken to a qualified landfill using particularly prepared vehicles.

Once all ACM work is complete, all surfaces are cleaned with wet methods and HEPA vacuums.

Completing the Asbestos Remediation Process

Before containment measures can be removed, you need to bring in a third-party certified air sampler to confirm that airborne asbestos is below the permissible levels set by federal and/or state guidelines. This should be a company separate from your asbestos abatement contractor.

Finally, once the area meets clearance criteria, the contractor can remove all containment barriers and equipment, then clean the area with a HEPA vacuum once last time.

After all work is complete, the asbestos abatement contractor should provide a report that includes all documentation of the procedures followed.

COVID-19 and Asbestos Removal

The coronavirus pandemic has presented interesting challenges and opportunities for asbestos abatement companies.

Early on, the increased demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) left remediation professionals undersupplied and therefore unavailable for work. Shelter-in-place orders also made home remediation impossible in most cases. And naturally, everyone's budgets have been strained.

On the other hand, high-occupancy buildings that closed due to the pandemic, including office buildings and schools, offered rare opportunities to remediate structures that were logistical nightmares under normal circumstances. Plus, some environmental remediation companies have capitalized on their expertise and equipment to offer COVID-19 decontamination services.

Don't DIY Your Asbestos Removal

Like many things we've had to put on hold this year, renovations aren't worth risking your long-term health. While it's nearly impossible for a private individual to safely handle materials that might contain asbestos, the pros have the equipment, experience, and specialized safety training to do so.

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