Handling and Disposing of Asbestos

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Jennifer Lucarelli Legal Advisor and Contributor

Only asbestos abatement professionals should handle, remove and dispose of asbestos. Abatement professionals can safely handle asbestos by following regulations. Mishandling asbestos may lead to asbestos exposure. Individuals exposed to asbestos may develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

01. Handling Asbestos Safely

Why Is It Important to Handle Asbestos Safely?

It’s important to handle asbestos safely to prevent asbestos exposure. When asbestos is mishandled, the fibers may become airborne.

Asbestos fibers can be inhaled and may become lodged in the linings of the lungs, abdomen or heart. Asbestos exposure may cause diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Why Homeowners Should Hire an Asbestos Abatement Company

Asbestos use has declined due to regulations, product bans and the use of safer alternatives. However, the general public may still be at risk of asbestos exposure from old products and materials. During a renovation or demolition, asbestos-containing materials may be disturbed.

Homeowners and workers should contact an asbestos abatement company if building materials become worn or broken. Asbestos-containing products in good condition and completely intact are generally considered safe. However, homeowners should monitor these materials for wearing or other damage.

It is important for the general public to have an asbestos abatement company assess the situation. If needed, abatement professionals can perform an asbestos encapsulation or remove the asbestos.

02. Identifying Asbestos

How to Identify Asbestos Materials That May Need Removal

Asbestos has been incorporated into thousands of products, such as building materials, automotive parts and consumer items. Industries frequently used asbestos for its durability and fire-resistant qualities. It was a popular additive to products particularly from the 1930s to the mid-1970s.

In 1984, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a national survey of friable, or easily broken, asbestos in public buildings. At the time, the EPA stated 20% of public and private buildings contained friable asbestos.

Asbestos may still be present in homes and buildings built before 1980. Asbestos fibers are not visible to the human eye and can be difficult to identify. It’s important for people to be aware of common materials that may contain asbestos to prevent exposure.

Building Materials Containing Asbestos

  • Caulking
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Cement sheeting
  • Concrete
  • Electrical breakers
  • Millboard
  • Plasters

Many building materials contained asbestos. It was typically used as a thermal insulator in public buildings, private companies and schools. In some cases, asbestos coatings were applied to metal beams as a fireproofing material. Asbestos was also mixed into compounds and plasters used on walls and ceilings.

In the EPA’s National Survey of Asbestos-Containing Friable Materials Final Report, the agency noted many of these materials contained high amounts of asbestos:

  • Asbestos-containing pipe or boiler insulation had an average asbestos content of 70%.
  • Sprayed or trowelled-on friable asbestos material for insulation and fireproofing had an average asbestos content of 14%. The agency reported 192,000 buildings contained these materials.
  • Construction workers and homeowners may still be at risk of asbestos exposure while performing renovations and remodels in older structures.

If an individual suspects asbestos is present, they can hire a professional to inspect the area. A professional can take samples of damaged or broken materials and test them.

If asbestos is identified, experienced professionals can recommend next steps. An asbestos abatement company can encapsulate the asbestos or remove and dispose of the material safely.

How to Handle and Remove Asbestos

Handling any asbestos products and materials can be dangerous. If the material is broken or damaged already, asbestos fibers can easily become airborne.

Research indicates there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. To prevent exposure, asbestos should only be handled and removed by professionals with the appropriate certifications.

Abatement professionals are highly trained to follow federal and state laws. The EPA requires abatement specialists to receive thorough training and accreditation.

What Is Asbestos Abatement?

Asbestos abatement is the legal and safe removal of asbestos from a building, home or worksite. In the United States, only EPA-licensed asbestos contractors are permitted to handle asbestos.

Although there are do-it-yourself asbestos abatement guides online, the EPA recommends the general public does not attempt to handle asbestos. Individuals who mishandle asbestos may face dangerous exposure.

Asbestos Testing and Mitigation

Homeowners and building owners should treat any potential asbestos-containing material as dangerous. Individuals should not touch the materials and avoid the area until an inspector can test them.

A licensed professional will perform a visual inspection of the area first for any potential hazards. An inspector will then remove pieces of the questionable material. Lab technicians will analyze the samples to determine asbestos content.

If the samples contain asbestos, the asbestos inspector will suggest next steps. They may recommend the materials be encapsulated or completely removed from the area.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) suggests the asbestos inspector employed to do the initial inspection is different from the removal contractors. This can help avoid a conflict of interest.

The Asbestos Removal Process

Depending on the condition of the asbestos materials, professionals may recommend encapsulation or abatement. During an encapsulation, specialists will coat the asbestos materials with a sealant. The coating will prevent fibers from becoming airborne.

If the damage is too severe, the materials may need to be completely removed. Steps in the asbestos removal process include:

  1. Turn off HVAC units and seal vents to prevent asbestos fibers from circulating.
  2. Seal off the work area with plastic sheeting.
  3. Use wet cleanup tools and HEPA filter vacuums to clean the workspace.
  4. Place all materials removed from the site inside clearly marked, leak-tight containers.

Technicians should wear a full-face mask respirator and coveralls when removing asbestos-containing materials. When finished, workers must adhere to decontamination protocols. For instance, workers should contain any soiled clothes. They should change and shower in a clean room away from the work area before changing into street clothes.

After asbestos abatement, professionals can safely dispose of the carcinogenic materials according to state and federal regulations.

03. Asbestos Disposal

How to Dispose of Asbestos After Abatement

After asbestos removal, abatement professionals take the materials to a landfill qualified to receive the waste. Different states and regions have their own protocols for dropping off asbestos waste.

In many cases, an asbestos abatement contractor should wet the asbestos-containing materials and encase them in plastic before transportation to a disposal site. At the designated disposal site, packaged asbestos is buried.

Can Asbestos Be Recycled?

In some cases, asbestos may be recycled. Asbestos is recycled using high heat, which eventually converts the fibers into an inert silicate glass. The high temperature destroys asbestos fibers and makes the asbestos non-hazardous.

In one study, researchers reported submerging metals with asbestos coverings into a sodium hydroxide (NaOH) bath. The asbestos turned into a silica gel that could be turned into glass. The metals were also recycled.

Researchers are still developing the technology and process to recycle asbestos. The ability to recycle asbestos can help decrease the cost of asbestos disposal and prevent the improper disposal of asbestos materials.

Improper Abatement and Illegal Dumping of Asbestos Products

If individuals attempt to get rid of asbestos without hiring a professional abatement contractor, they may face consequences. Individuals who illegally dump asbestos may be fined and penalized. Instances of asbestos dumping have resulted in large fines and jail time.

Asbestos abatement companies can also face fines if they do not comply with laws and procedures. Improper abatement may cause occupational exposure and put the public at risk of exposure.

It’s important to dispose of asbestos according to regulations to maintain public safety. When asbestos is not taken to the recommended sites, people may be unnecessarily exposed.

If a person believes improper asbestos disposal has taken place, they can contact:

  • The EPA on its website or by calling 1-800-368-5888
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on its website or by calling 800-321-6742
  • The state or regional Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)

04. Rules & Regulations

Rules and Regulations for Handling Asbestos

Federal and state regulations dictate how asbestos found in schools, homes and other buildings should be handled. The laws are meant to protect the general public from asbestos exposure.

Some rules are specific to certain locations and building types. Other rules serve a universal purpose to fully protect people from unnecessary exposure.

Rules and regulations around handling and using asbestos in the United States include:

The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA)
AHERA is an EPA regulation put into place to address asbestos found in schools and other learning facilities across the country.

AHERA states institutions must periodically inspect facilities for the presence of asbestos-containing materials. Educational institutions must have a plan in place to reduce future health hazards associated with exposure to the mineral.

The National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP)
The EPA created NESHAP to reduce the amount of airborne asbestos during construction work. These rules relate to demolition and renovation projects in buildings. The standards ensure there is as little contamination as possible around the worksite.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Regulations
OSHA has specific regulations for several industries, including manufacturing, shipyards and construction. As part of these regulations, OSHA established Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL) for employees who may come into contact with asbestos. Employers must ensure workers do not experience exposure above these limits.

There are also rules for marking asbestos materials. OSHA also established medical surveillance requirements for asbestos-exposed workers, including medical monitoring and recordkeeping related to exposure.

Additional EPA Regulations
The EPA has a variety of asbestos rules and regulations in place. Besides AHERA and NESHAP, the EPA works to control asbestos exposure and reporting through:

  • The Asbestos Worker Protection Rule
  • The Clean Air Act
  • The Safe Drinking Water Act

These regulations dictate where and how asbestos can be disposed of. The rules were created to prevent future cases of asbestos exposure.

05. Tips & Resources

Tips and Resources for Asbestos Remediation

Before moving forward with asbestos abatement, homeowners should research to find the right company. Homeowners should receive multiple bids from abatement companies. The contractors should provide a written work plan. The plan should detail what methods will be used to remove and clean up the area.

Asbestos removal plans should meet all state and federal regulations to ensure the job is being done correctly. Contractors should also be able to provide references from other customers, as well as proof of workers’ certifications.

Homeowners and others can learn more about how to safely have asbestos removed from a home or building. Additional resources for handling, removing and disposing of asbestos, include:

Before any renovation or demolition on an older building, owners should consider contacting an asbestos professional for testing. Safe handling and removal of asbestos can prevent exposure and ensure proper disposal.