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building demolition

Building Demolition and Asbestos Exposure

asbestos exposureIf you have an interest in demolition – either as a worker or spectator – you need to keep in mind that demolishing older structures may put you at risk of asbestos exposure. This is why there are strict federal laws dictating how asbestos must be handled both before and during demolition projects.

Where in an old building can you find asbestos?
During much of the 20th century, asbestos was a popular component of construction materials because of its strength, ability to resist fire and capacity to insulate against heat and sound. However, during the 1970s, responsible companies began eliminating asbestos from their manufacturing processes because of the link between exposure to the mineral and the development of fatal diseases, such as malignant mesothelioma.

In fact, the Environmental Working Group estimates that every year, asbestos-related diseases claim the lives of more than 9,900 individuals in the U.S. This underscores the importance of protecting both consumers and industrial workers from asbestos exposure.

As listed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, items in and around buildings that may contain asbestos include, but are not limited to:

  • Cement corrugated sheets
  • Cement flat sheets
  • Cement shingles
  • Cement pipe
  • Pipeline wrap
  • Roofing felt
  • Roof coatings
  • Non-roof coatings
  • Vinyl floor felt

How should asbestos be dealt with before demolition?
When a building is torn down, there is a lot of potential for dangerous substances to be released into the environment, putting the health of both workers and local residents at risk. That’s why the federal government has strict laws dictating the handling of asbestos before a demolition project commences.

First, the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, or NESHAP, requires that any building manager or operator notify the appropriate state agencies before demolition takes place. Next, demolition workers have to be careful about controlling the emissions of potentially deadly substances.

When it comes to asbestos, that means minding both friable – that is, it can crumble when handled – and non-friable asbestos products that may become damaged during the demolition must be removed prior to the actual demolition.

If the removal process is likely to disturb any of these materials, those in charge of the project have to make sure they’re kept adequately wet in order to control the dust problem.

Similarly, anything that cannot be physically removed from the site before demolition must be kept wet until its actual disposal after demolition. The goal here is to make sure that there is no visible dust.

There are only two exceptions to the rule regarding keeping these materials wet prior to demolition:

  1. If the temperature at the time of wetting is below zero. Building owners and operators must make a note of these temperatures and keep the records for at least two years.
  2. When the use of water will damage equipment or present a safety hazard. This requires written approval from safety inspection administrators.

Building owners and operators have to keep in mind that inspectors will also be on hand to make sure that the wetting procedures are being carried out properly. They can evaluate things such as the location of the water supply, whether an alternative wetting agent is needed, what equipment is being used to wet the materials and how properly bags of waste are handled.

If those in charge of a demolition project know that air concentrations of asbestos fibers may exceed permissible exposure limits, they must provide workers with protective clothing and respirators.

Building Demolition Could Put Locals at Risk of Asbestos Exposure

asbestos_exposureBuilding demolition can stir a lot of different emotions. If the building to be torn down was a beloved space, such as a movie theater, you, as a spectator, may feel grief. If the space is the future home of a business filled with promise, you may be filled with anticipation.

However, if the companies in charge of the demolition try to cut corners, they may put you and others near a demolition site in danger of asbestos exposure – and believe me, there are people out there who are this unscrupulous.

Recently, I came across a story in the News-Messenger in Ohio, where the owner of a demolition company was sent to prison for not minimizing the potential of exposure to asbestos at job sites in two states.

Where is asbestos found in these buildings?
By the mid-1970s, asbestos was found in more than 3,000 industrial and commercial products. Because of its physical properties, it had been highly regarded as insulation, fireproofing material and for its capacity to strengthen cement products.

Although new uses of asbestos have been banned in the U.S. for about 20 years, it can still be found in vermiculite insulation, old piping insulation, vinyl flooring, roofing shingles, siding and other products.

Typically, asbestos doesn’t pose any risks to people nearby as long as it’s intact.

Demolition company violates clean air laws
Rick Hassinger of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency told the News-Messenger that before a building is torn down, all of the asbestos has to be removed properly by trained professionals. That wasn’t the case with one demolition job in Toldeo, Ohio.

Prior to tearing an elevator factory down, managers from H & M Demolition, a Michigan-based firm, declared the Toledo building free of asbestos. This aroused suspicions in federal EPA investigators because most older buildings have asbestos-containing products. Indeed, building surveys from 2004 and 2005, prior to the demolition, noted the presence of asbestos.

When investigators paid a visit to the site, they found what appeared to be asbestos. The owner of the demolition firm was subsequently charged with violating clean air laws in both Ohio and Michigan, and he was sentenced to 13 months in prison.

Robert Cheugh, a prosecutor with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Environmental Enforcement Section, told the news source that, unfortunately, cases like this are becoming increasingly common because of urban renewal projects.

How are people protected?
Hassinger said that it’s safe to assume that any building to be demolished contains asbestos. With that in mind, building owners and operators have to notify the appropriate state agencies before beginning a demolition project. Federal clean air laws have requirements dictating how asbestos has to be handled, transported, contained and disposed of during a demolition job.

If you live or work in a building and you’re unaware of its asbestos status, contact the managers or owners and ask them about their operations and maintenance program.

Experts estimate that more than 9,900 individuals in the U.S. die every year because of asbestos-related illnesses, including malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer. One of the dangers of asbestos is the fact that it’s odorless. Additionally, many of the mineral fibers are too small to be seen by the naked eye. This makes it hard to tell whether you’re in immediate danger of breathing in the fibers.

The fact that demolition companies try to shirk their duty to protect the public from asbestos is appalling to us at Kazan Law, and we think that consumers deserve better protection.

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