Asbestos in Construction

February 18, 2019
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During my time in construction I have worked on a number of jobs that have asbestos containing material (ACM). The safe removal and treatment of this material often involves alot of extra work. In this article I will cover basics of identification, removal and shed some light on different disposal methods.

Asbestos Identification

Asbestos has been around for a very long time. Truth be told, aside from the health drawbacks, it's pretty amazing stuff. Asbestos is a light, strong and fire retardant material which make it ideal for building components. Unfortunately, all of those benefits come with a catch, it's main drawback is that it's a carcinogen or cause of cancer.

Asbestos was used in buildings and all sorts of every day materials up until the 60s and 70s. The material has since been banned in most country's but many of the structures we now work in (and renovate) contain old materials. Below is a list of just SOME of the materials that can be asbestos containing:

  • Ceiling tiles
  • Drywall compound
  • Brick Mortar
  • Roofing membrane
  • Insulation
  • Fireproofing

If you have a building that was built or renovated prior to the 2000's there is a good chance that there may be some form of asbestos lingering in your building. 

 

 

Asbestos Processes and Procedures

Your first step if you think you may have an ACM in your building (or even if you don't suspect it) is to hire a consultant. The consultant will do a survey of your property and identify anything that is containing, by both destructive and non-destructive testing.

Once you have an understanding of what is within your building, it's important to treat it properly. If the asbestos is not disturbed it does not pose a problem. For example, if you have a wall that is asbestos containing and it is never touched, there is relatively little risk with the material. The issue comes when it is altered or moved in someway, causing the asbestos particles to be airborne.

In order to remove the contaminated material properly it is time to call another professional. There are plenty of demolition companies that specialize in hazardous material removal. These companies and their workers and trained and certified on these contaminants in order to safely remove them.

There are many requirements for the safe removal of asbestos, and these will change based on your region and local requirements, however in general removal includes the following:

  • Construction of a barrier or enclosure to limit the exposure of materials to surrounding areas this barrier includes poly, rip proof poly and negative air units to create a negative pressure within the enclosure reducing the amount of airbourne materials that make it out of the space.
  • Application of water or material to reduce the amount of dust created by removal.
  • Proper PPE by workers (including a HEPA mask, bodysuit, gloves etc).
  • Construction of a showered area to allow workers to wet down after working within the enclosure.
  • Containment of removed material in two layers of rip proof bags properly labeled to illustrate contaminated materials.
In general each of these should be included in your construction safety and emergency response plan.

 Disposal of Asbestos

If you have hired a company to properly remove the asbestos containing material they will be responsible for the proper disposal. There are a few ways in which asbestos is disposed of which I have outlined for your below:

  • Landfill - the most common method is that the material is disposed of in a landfill. The landfill that we reference though isn't the one you drop your dryer off with your dad in your car. There are specialized landfills that deal with toxic and hazardous materials. These landfills require special paper work and applications to be submitted before even sending the material away. The material is typically either buried or stored in containers.
  • Incineration - one of the newer techniques on the market is destruction by incineration. Because the properties of asbestos make it a natural fire retardant the material does not burn easily. As such - asbestos needs to be exposed to extreme temperatures in order to ensure the fibres are burned and not just displaced. This can be done using a plasma.
  • Chemical Bath - another newer approach is to utilize a chemical bath using an acid or base material to essentially eat away the fibres. The ACM is drenched in large containers and any sediment is than sent to a landfill or recycled.ware

Wrapping Up

Asbestos in all situations should be treated properly. If your contract is a construction management type contract the ownership may fall on you to remove the material.

The negative health affects related to exposure include lung cancer and death. Often times these effects don't appear until many years after. Always be sure to consult professionals every time you need to deal with building materials in order to ensure it is properly identified and disposed of.


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