by Roger Francoeur
As I do on most mornings, I sat down today with my coffee and my never-ending to-do list. Nothing much has changed in that department, except that it used to always be the trusty paper and pen. Now, it might be that or just as likely, the smart phone Notepad app. The older I get, the more critical the list becomes. I think a list could also be handy for many folks who are involved with asbestos restoration or renovation work; specifically, a checklist for dealing with asbestos issues that will inevitably come up.
Asbestos in construction is highly regulated by state, federal, and in some cases, local agencies. I frequently get the “deer in the headlights” look from people when I tell them that there is no official cut-off date for the use of asbestos-containing building materials (ACBM), like there is with, for example, lead-based paint. Although some materials were banned, you can still purchase asbestos in building materials today.
Asbestos is a carcinogen, and epidemiological studies demonstrate that several diseases are related to asbestos exposure. It can show up in many types of building material including, but not limited to, flooring, caulking, putty, roofing, siding, felt paper, insulations, ceiling tile, plaster, gypsum, joint compound, transite (cement-board) panel and pipe, gaskets, pipe and mechanical system insulation, spray-on insulation, and the list goes on. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that asbestos has been used in thousands of different products. A flurry of media attention that occurred several years ago, pertaining to tremolite asbestos contamination in vermiculite insulation from Libby, Montana has added yet another very common building product to the list, and it turns up in many attics throughout the country. A general rule of thumb is that if it isn’t wood, metal, or rubber, then the EPA likely considers it a suspect ACBM.
Still, I find that all too many building contractors are surprised to learn that many state and federal agencies require inspections for ACBM by accredited or licensed inspectors, prior to any renovation or demolition. If ACBM is present and will be disturbed, then remediation specifications and work plans must be prepared. For actual abatement work, requirements include the use of a licensed contractor (in most cases), filing permits, oversight testing and monitoring of the work, and the proper transportation and disposal of ACBM at an approved landfill.
Typical steps for asbestos in construction are as follows:
Inspections. For smaller projects, it usually requires a day of site inspection and sample gathering along with reporting. Needless to say, more time is needed for larger projects. Ideally, inspections are completed during project design to allow for adequate planning and budgeting. Laboratory analysis on the samples typically take two to three days, as well as review time. Of course, rush jobs would take less time, but this means asking for premium rates for lab analysis. Inspections are detail-oriented tasks requiring planning for site access, proper sample extraction, dealing with public relations issues, and extensive documentation and reporting. Only licensed, accredited inspection firms should be used, and they should have adequate professional liability insurance coverage for environmental testing services.
Remediation specification or work plan. Managers should plan on a week or two, if possible, to allow for necessary review, meetings, coordination, draft preparation, and modifications of project design. They should also allow additional time for bidding of the work by qualified design firms with adequate professional liability insurance coverage. Ideally, managers would plan to complete this design work in conjunction with the overall renovation/construction design and planning phase. During this time, impact studies can be performed and all the various abatement options can be reviewed. With abatement costs potentially representing a large portion of the overall project costs, impact studies and design are critical. A good design document is also essential for the solicitation of apples-to-apples bids from qualified abatement firms, not to mention a thorough contract.
Notifications. All contractors at the site should be notified of testing and inspection results as soon as possible and in accordance with OSHA requirements. In addition, 10-day notice must be provided in accordance with the EPA National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants regulation and various other state regulations. In many New England states, the notification is directed to the appropriate state agency and there is a fee depending on the type and size of project. Emergency notifications can be filed to address immediate public health conditions.
Abatement. Although abatement must often be completed first thing and as quickly as possible, it is important to allow enough time for it to be done correctly, thoroughly, and safely. The project manager must allow sufficient time for adequate cleaning, inspections, and testing. Otherwise, a problem may become more serious and result in failure to pass the final clearance tests. Only experienced and licensed abatement contractors must be used to conduct removal, repair, packaging, and disposal of asbestos. The abatement contractors will also need to be monitored, inspected, and their work tested by an independent industrial hygiene monitoring firm. Both groups should have the necessary insurance for this type of environmental work.
Records. Finally, following the abatement work, there are more deadlines. At a minimum, the following abatement records should be submitted to the owner within 30 days of completion of sitework (and before final payment to the asbestos contractor):
- Site supervisor logs and daily sign-in sheets.
- Notifications and permits.
- Copies of current entity license, worker licenses, and training records.
- Copies of OSHA exposure monitoring results.
- Signed and completed copies of the asbestos waste shipment records (WSR) must be submitted within 35 days of each shipment. If this isn’t received, the owner/manager of the project must notify the contractor and request a status report. If the WSR is still not received by 45 days, then the owner/construction manager must notify NH DES.
The construction manager and project industrial hygiene consultant should also review the records and submit their own reports.
It is important to remember that the end product of abatement is not a building or a material, but asbestos that has been handled safely and disposed of properly; and okay, piles of paperwork. So, for the health of our environment, it is critical that thorough and complete asbestos records and testing reports be completed by those involved in the project.
Roger Francoeur is president of RPF Environmental, Inc., with offices throughout New England.