What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used for thousands of years. It is one of the best fire resistant materials in the world, and has been used to manufacture more than 3,000 products. It can commonly be found in residential and commercial buildings that were constructed between 1940 and 1990. Asbestos plaster, asbestos cement pipes, asbestos roof tiles, asbestos ceiling tiles and floor tiles, asbestos shingles, and asbestos pipe insulation are very common in older buildings. Also, some AC pipes are insulated with asbestos materials.
Asbestos fibers are smaller than blood cells, and can only be detected with a microscope by an asbestos testing lab. These microscopic fibers are usually only dangerous to humans when they become airborne and are inhaled. For this reason, asbestos materials that are broken or disturbed are much more dangerous than asbestos containing materials that are intact.
Many people inhale asbestos fibers without being aware of it. These microscopic fibers don’t evaporate once airborne, and they can remain suspended in the air for days or weeks after release. They are also resistant to extreme heat and chemicals. Once inside a human lung, these fibers can cause irreversible long-term lung damage and lung diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. Most asbestos-related diseases don’t display any symptoms until 10-30+ years after initial exposure.
Where Can Asbestos Be Found in Buildings?
In the United States, asbestos materials used in construction products first became banned in the late 1970s (except flooring products containing asbestos). This ban does not extend to imported building materials which can still contain asbestos. As a general rule of thumb, any building built or renovated before 1990 should undergo asbestos testing. It’s always better to be safe than sorry with asbestos products, considering the health risks. Not all builders and manufacturers abided by the governmental ban on asbestos products, and older products made before the ban could still have been used in later construction and renovation work.
Prior to the 1980s, the material was used mostly used in any product that need to be fire resistant, such as fire doors, ceiling tiles and spray-on ceiling and wall flame retardants. Discovering that there is asbestos in their home can come as quite a shock to many homeowners who incorrectly assume that asbestos is something of the distant past. However, there’s only cause for alarm if the asbestos products in your home are broken or damaged (which is know as “friable asbestos”). Friable asbestos products crumble and flake, releasing the asbestos fibers particles into the atmosphere. Testing your home and removing any asbestos products is essential to protect your household and also any person who enters it.
Identifying asbestos containing products is not always easy, as many older building materials look similar. Just making a visual identification is never adequate. We recommend that all homeowners and building owners get a sample of any products they suspect contain asbestos tested from an accredited asbestos testing lab before starting any construction, renovation or demolition work. Before disturbing or removing any old materials, make sure you have positive proof that the material does not contain asbestos (or any other hazardous material such as lead). An product only has to be contain at least 1% asbestos to be considered an asbestos containing material and therefore potentially a health hazard.
How to Identify Asbestos
The common practice is to conduct a thorough inspection of your home and send a sample of any suspicious materials to an accredited asbestos testing lab and then to hire a contractor to carry out the removal job, although some companies off both services. Usually removal is performed by licensed contractors and the material analysis is performed by an certified lab. If you have asbestos products in your property that present an immediate health hazard, the only way to ensure that everyone remains safe is to have those products removed.
It usually isn’t possible to just look at a substance to determine if asbestos is present in it; having a sample of the material tested is the only way to know for certain. Also, usually only an experience property inspector will be able to find products that may contain asbestos, and there may be products in your home that contain asbestos that you were never even aware of. For this reason, a full property inspection is highly recommended.
A full property inspection will probably cost between $350 and $900. Make sure that the inspectors are federally and/or state licensed and are able to supply qualifications and references.
“On site” sampling (i.e. a specialist comes to your property, collects the sample and tests it there) may range from around $300 to $800. An air quality test can cost from $350 to $1500.
By now most people are well aware of the hazards of asbestos, possibly due to many high-profile lawsuits and many commercials from legal firms claiming to be able to recover millions of dollars for their clients. Asbestos is now know to be a major cause of lung disease and lung cancer when inhaled, and is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths. For this reason, all property owners who own older buildings need to ensure that they inspect and test every square inch of their property for the presence of asbestos. Before any individual can properly carry out an asbestos abatement program (safely removing all asbestos products) they must have the building inspected thoroughly and know the condition of asbestos products so they can plan their removal.
If the inspector has identified asbestos on the property, a contractor will pre-clean the area and set up containment area to prevent any fibers from being accidentally moved to another location and cause more problems. Then, using specialized equipment, they will remove the asbestos materials and dispose of them according to OSHA’s guidelines. Following the removal, they will clean up the area with a HEPA vacuum and wet mopping and there should be no asbestos fibers left at the location.
Although there are no laws regulating asbestos removal contracts, OSHA provides specific guidelines about how asbestos removals should be carried out to ensure everyone’s safety. You should ensure that your removal job abides by OSHA’s requirements, as well as all national, state and local regulations. Upon completion of the job, your contractor will need to make a written statement saying that all necessary processes were completed successful.
Asbestos Removal Cost
Prices can vary drastically depending on the extent of the particular job and how much asbestos there is in the building. It can also be difficult to find asbestos removal companies in many places, as many construction firms won’t or can’t remove asbestos because of lack of training or a lack of the necessary protective equipment.
Asbestos removal generally costs between $20 to $30 per square foot. A full asbestos removal job can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 or more, depending on a variety of factors, including what kind of asbestos products you need removed, how much you need removed and where they are located. As a general rule, the more asbestos you have and the more damaged it is, the more the removal will cost.
After removal, there should be another property inspection and this one will have to check the atmosphere and the air quality to determine if the environment is safe for occupants. It will have to be established that the asbestos removal was done completely and thoroughly. Although a second inspection is another additional cost, it is a necessary stage to ensure everything is done properly and the building doesn’t present any health hazard. The cost of a post-removal inspection will vary between $200 to about $400. If you have concerns about the air quality, you can install air purity monitors to monitory the air quality. This is typically required in most public buildings.
Other Options to Consider
Asbestos encapsulation is another option to consider if you have asbestos containing products that are in good condition and haven’t been disturbed or damaged. Encapsulation essentially means covering the asbestos products with an air-tight seal so none of the asbestos fibers can be released into the air. If asbestos products are intact, encapsulation may be a safer option than trying to remove those products. You should discuss this with a specialist asbestos removal company to see what they advise. Asbestos encapsulation is substantially cheaper than asbestos removal, costing between $3-$10 per square foot.