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Is Your Building in Danger of Asbestos Exposure?

asbestos_exposureIf you live in an apartment complex or share an office building, you likely rely on a building manager to make sure everything is in working order. Between making sure the plumbing is functioning properly, the HVAC system is circulating fresh air and the custodial staff is keeping everything clean, the building manager is in charge of ensuring that the needs of a particular space are being met.

Clearly, some issues need to be addressed immediately while others require ongoing vigilance. Asbestos exposure fits in the latter category. If your building manager is responsible, he or she should be staying up-to-date on the latest federal and state policies regarding asbestos and staying communicative with both you and the maintenance staff.

Asbestos can be found in many older buildings
Until the 1980s, the use of asbestos in construction materials was rampant in the U.S. Although responsible companies started phasing it out of their manufacturing processes due to concerns about its associations with fatal illnesses such as malignant mesothelioma, asbestos-containing materials are still present in older buildings.

As long as these products are in good condition and left undisturbed, they pose no health risks to nearby individuals. This is why your building managers need to be aware of where asbestos exists in your complex, which will help them warn you to stay away from hazardous areas.

There are several products that were typically made with asbestos prior to 1981. These include, but are not limited to heating system insulation, vinyl flooring and tiles, “popcorn” ceilings, heating and air conditioning duct wrap, paper backing of linoleum and wall-texturing compounds.

How should building managers take care of asbestos?
It’s advisable for all building managers to create an Operations and Management, or O&M, program to prevent asbestos exposure.

 A successful O&M program includes seven elements:

1. Training of custodial and other staff
2. A plan for occupant notification
3. Monitoring of asbestos-containing materials
4. Job-site controls for work that involves asbestos-containing materials
5. Safe work practices to prevent the release of mineral fibers from asbestos-containing materials
6. Good recordkeeping to document all O&M activities
7. Medical and respiratory protection for workers

Before creating an O&M program, building managers should appoint an asbestos project manager, who could oversee all activities pertaining to asbestos, including building inspections, abatement projects and staff training. This position usually goes to building engineers, superintendents or safety and health directors. If the site is small, the building managers themselves may hold this position.

After an asbestos project manager has been appointed, the building has to be inspected. The results can inform the creation of the O&M program. In case asbestos is an immediate cause of concern, managers can formulate a plan for abatement or removal.

One of the most important things that building managers can do is keep occupants like you informed so that you know where the asbestos is and remember not to disturb it. The EPA says this can be done by posting signs and distributing written notices. These notices should include information such as where the products are located, what condition they’re in, whether dust is present, how often inspections occur and other important topics. Ideally, these materials should also be available in your primary language if it’s anything other than English.

If the building you’re worried about is a rental complex that you live in, building managers don’t have to warn you about asbestos if they had a licensed inspector come out and conclude there is no asbestos on the premises. Otherwise, they do have to keep you informed.

Safe Demolition Essential to Avoid Asbestos Exposure

demolition siteDemolition projects are rife with hazards and not just those that come from falling debris and heavy machinery. The presence of asbestos in a building that is to be torn down presents a number of dangers as such work can allow the naturally occurring mineral’s fibers to become airborne, which can have deadly consequences.

The inhalation of asbestos fibers has been proven for decades to cause a number of serious illnesses such as lung cancer, asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma.

Recognizing these dangers, action has been taken at two sites in the northeastern part of the United States regarding potentially dangerous demolition projects.

Massachusetts officials claim violations at shed demolition

Officials in Holliston, Massachusetts, said that the town’s Water Department violated local and state laws protecting wetlands when it knocked down a shed.

MetroWest Daily News reports that a truck damaged the shed over the summer and the building was torn down shortly thereafter.

Town Conservation Commission and Board of Health member Richard Maccagnano said that such action was unacceptable as asbestos may have been present in the structure, which was reportedly built in 1958.

Maccagnano said that the department needed permission to perform such a demolition, something Water Commission Chairman Dennis Ferreira says he did not know.

“We weren’t aware that we needed a special permit to do it,” he told the news source.

Currently tests are being conducted on the structure and it is expected that the demolition debris will be removed soon.

New York business owner angered over potential demolition of shop

The owner of the old Peters Dry Cleaning in Lockport, New York, said that he would sue the city if it proceeds with emergency demolition plans on the structure.

A wing of the facility – which was built in the 1920s and ’30s – collapsed in mid-December and owner Patrick McFall was ordered to obtain an asbestos report for the structure. However, McFall insists that his building is asbestos free and said that he would file a lawsuit against the city if they tore his building down.

However, Chief Building Inspector Jason Dool says that the store likely contains the substance.

“Certainly you can’t tell by a set of blueprints. It could be in plaster, it could be in window caulking,” he told the Buffalo News. “Due to the age of the building and everything else, I would not be surprised if there were asbestos in the building.”

Dool added that the city has the authority to tear unsafe buildings down, but acknowledged that a walk-through of the structure is likely needed.

These incidents show that demolition of asbestos-containing structures need to be taken seriously.

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