Renovating? Be Asbestos Aware

It’s hard to believe after all the snow we’ve had, but spring really is just around the corner.  And that means it’s time to begin those remodeling and renovation projects you’ve been dreaming of all winter long.

But before you start ripping out the old to make way for the new, have you considered asbestos? Proper precautions during demolition and remodeling will ensure safe removal and containment of potentially harmful materials that may contain asbestos.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is an odorless, tasteless silicate mineral fiber that occurs naturally in rock and soil.  It has been widely used in manufacturing because of its fiber strength, low cost, and resistance to heat and acid.  Asbestos has also been used in a wide range of manufactured goods including building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products), friction products (automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts), heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings.

Breathing asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.  The symptoms for these diseases often don’t appear for 20 to 30 years after the first exposure.

Asbestos products can be categorized by the terms ‘friable’ and ‘non-friable’.   Non-friable asbestos products are not likely to release significant levels of fibers because the fibers are locked into the materials.  To release fibers from non-friable asbestos products like floor tile you would need to cut, sand, grind or abrade the product.

Non-friable product examples (containing more than 1 percent asbestos) include:
• gaskets
• resilient floor covering
• asphalt roofing products
• floor mastics

Friable asbestos products, on the other hand, release fibers easily when disturbed or damaged because the asbestos fibers are not locked into a substrate material.

Friable product examples include:
• ceiling tile
• thermal systems insulation
• fire proofing
• sound proofing

It’s important to remember that most asbestos products present little risk if they are in good condition and are not disturbed.  Friable asbestos poses the most risk of fiber release when damaged or disturbed.  Under these conditions the material should be handled by trained individuals using proper Personal Protective Equipment.  Non-friable products pose little threat of fiber release unless the products are subjected to cutting, sanding, grinding or abrading.

Removing Asbestos Safely

The presence of asbestos cannot be determined by simply looking at a product.  To determine if a material contains asbestos, microscopic methods must be used.  Laboratory analysis for an asbestos sample is relatively inexpensive.  Many labs will process a sample for around $20.00.

If asbestos is found in a home, it poses little threat if left undisturbed.  If asbestos must be removed, it should be removed as intact as possible to prevent fibers from being released into the air.  Regulations do not prevent the owner of a single family residence from removing asbestos themselves; however, the risks should be well understood.  Without proper precautions, renovations, demolitions, and even routine maintenance can cause asbestos-containing materials to release microscopic asbestos fibers into the air we breathe.

Asbestos removals associated with renovations and demolitions at commercial, public or school buildings are regulated by the Division for Air Quality (Division) under the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), 40 CFR 61, Subpart M. Before renovating or demolishing a structure, a thorough asbestos survey is required  by a qualified professional.  If 160 square, 260 linear, or 35 cubic feet or more of friable asbestos will be removed over a year’s time, the removal must be done by a certified contractor using state-of-the-art work practices.

Division regulations also require schools to have their buildings thoroughly checked for asbestos under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA). The surveyed results must be documented in a management plan that describes how all asbestos materials in the school’s buildings will be managed safely.

Compliance with the asbestos regulations is determined by the Division’s Field Support Section and inspectors from the regional offices.

To learn more, visit the Division for Air Quality’s Asbestos page at .

Asbestos ceiling tile.  Photo: Division for Air Quality
Asbestos ceiling tile. Photo:
Division for Air Quality
Example of non-friable asbestos floor tile. Photo: Townsville Asbestos Pty Ltd.
Example of non-friable asbestos floor tile. Photo: Townsville Asbestos Pty Ltd.
Torn asbestos pipe wrapping. Photo: Health and Safety Executive, United Kingdom.