Asbestos use has been phased out since 1989 and banned entirely in 2003, however the myriad of past applications – from building materials to brake linings – does need special consideration when it comes to removing and disposing of the substance. How can contractors and other professionals working at a job site that has or may have asbestos take the necessary precautions? For starters, by working with an accredited abatement contractor.
What is asbestos?
First of all, asbestos is not a single material. The term describes specific naturally occurring minerals that form into aggregates of long, strong fibers. These materials have been used for thousands of years, most abundantly over the last century, primarily in a broad array of insulation applications.
If the fibers separate and become airborne, known as friable asbestos, exposure can lead to adverse health conditions. The decision to remove or not remove asbestos from a site typically depends on whether the asbestos is – or can become – airborne and lead to human exposure. For example, a “popcorn” ceiling or aging insulation that contains asbestos can lead to airborne fibers. Undisturbed building siding that contains asbestos likely would not lead to exposure – this type of material is known as “non-friable”. However, if the siding is improperly removed (e.g., broken and crumbled), it could create airborne asbestos and thereby become “friable”.
The presence – or the potential presence – of “friable” material plays a large role in decisions about whether and how to remove asbestos related materials.
How to identify asbestos
It’s not possible to identify asbestos with the naked eye – or even a microscope. However, certain clues, such as the age of a building and the presence of building products that typically contained asbestos, may help identify the likelihood of asbestos materials being present. A trained and accredited abatement contractor can test for asbestos by obtaining samples from air and materials on site and having them analyzed at an accredited laboratory. If asbestos is identified, an accredited abatement contractor will provide an evaluation of the extent of asbestos present and recommendations for correction. The abatement contractor also can help ensure that contractors know and follow proper procedures for clean up and disposal to reduce potential exposure to asbestos.
Best practice is when in doubt about the presence of asbestos, bring in a professional to test for the substance.
Safe removing and handling of asbestos
Once asbestos has been identified on a site, an abatement contractor needs to develop a work plan that identifies necessary clean up along with the applicable federal, state, and local regulations that must be followed regarding notifications, removal, handling, and disposal of the materials. The regulations mandate clean up activities that reduce potential exposure to asbestos, such as thoroughly wetting asbestos materials, using special vacuum cleaners, sealing off the work site, and the use of appropriate respirators.
Safe transport and disposal of asbestos
Once removed from a site, asbestos is treated as “special handling waste” and is subject to federal requirements that cover shipping documents, packaging, labeling, and vehicle placarding. These requirements are designed to ensure that asbestos is loaded, handled, and unloaded in a manner that minimizes exposure to airborne asbestos fibers during transit.
Since asbestos is typically disposed of in specified landfills, state and local governments oversee its proper disposal, so regulations vary by location and may be more stringent than federal regulations. Prior to landfilling, asbestos typically is wetted, sealed in appropriate wrappings or containers, and labeled with information about the source of the material.
It’s best to consult with an expert in special wastes prior to beginning any project that may involve asbestos. As outlined above, the process of identifying, testing, handling, transporting, and disposing of asbestos wastes is complex and requires special attention.
The experts at Advanced Disposal routinely consult with abatement contractors and other professionals on testing requirements and project planning, helping ensure cost-effective and timely completion of projects. If you have questions, or want to find out how Advanced Disposal can help you deal with asbestos, contact one of our Special Waste Experts – we’re here to help.
More information on asbestos can be found on the EPA website.
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