EFFECTIVE PROGRAMMING IN IDENTIFICATION
AND EVALUATION OF HAZARDOUS EXPOSURES
TO ASBESTOS IN PUBLIC BUILDINGS
Joseph H. Guth, Ph.D.
INTERSCIENCE RESEARCH, INC.
2614 Wyoming Avenue
Norfolk, VA 23513
May 8, 1985
51st Annual Safety Conference
The Virginia Safety Association, Inc.
Until the present decade, exposure to asbestos was generally considered an occupational health hazard for insulators, pipe-fitters, and other asbestos workers. However, it is now recognized that an equally serious exposure problem occurs in all types of buildings in which certain asbestos-containing materials have been used for fire-proofing, insulation, decoration, and structural needs. Asbestos can be released from these materials and permanently contaminate the building environment. Individuals who are then repeatedly exposed to the asbestos have a predictable chance of developing lung cancer, mesothelioma, or cancers of other parts of the body. Unfortunately, detection of asbestos-related diseases is difficult since the latency period between initial exposure and appearance of the disease is usually 15 to 40 years.
There are over 3,600 asbestos-containing products in our society. About 2,000 of these are used in construction of buildings. Since these materials are found in school buildings, commercial buildings, offices, government facilities, industrial buildings, and homes, there is a need for concern regarding the long-term, low-level exposure of both children and adults. The school children differ from other nonoccupationally-exposed populations in age, population density, and other risk factors.
The exposure of children and adolescents to asbestos in the school and other buildings occurs early in their life span when they are more sensitive to toxic materials in general. Their remaining life expectancy provides a much longer development period for asbestos-related disease, increasing their chances for asbestos disease development with a given exposure level.
A large number of children can be exposed at one time to asbestos that is released from asbestos-containing materials present in these buildings. The duration of exposure is of concern in schools and residences since children spend most of their time within one of these two environments.
Certain asbestos-containing materials can be damaged and the resulting contamination can be rapidly spread during daily activities. When the material is damaged, asbestos fibers are released and exposure can occur. Many cases of badly damaged asbestos-containing materials have been found in public buildings, such as schools, hospitals, office buildings, auditoriums, theaters, stores, apartments and single-family dwellings, as well as recreational centers.
The best and safest approach to the asbestos problem in public buildings is to eliminate all of the asbestos materials present followed by a total decontamination of the residual free fibers always present from earlier events which caused their release. REMEMBER: The danger is from microscopic, respirable asbestos fibers. Thus all free fibers and continuing sources of free fibers must be addressed in your program.
Exposure does not necessarily end when asbestos is removed. Poor contractor work practices will commonly make a low hazard case turn into a serious or even extremely hazardous one. The following plan I will present has successfully prevented this from occurring in hundreds of cases and in virtually all types of settings. Only highly specialized and experienced consultants and industrial hygienists should attempt to carry this program out.
The field of asbestos abatement requires a full-time committment since regulations, laws, equipment, procedures, standards, laboratory analytical procedures, and the like are in a constant state of flux. The facility owner or management must make what may be life-or-death decisions when they are addressing their asbestos needs, as well as economically important ones. The necessary blending of medical, scientific, engineering, industrial hygiene, architectural, and legal expertise needed to make this informed judgement is usually found with an asbestos-consulting firm. It is no longer a matter of calling a contractor up from a bid list or the yellow pages and getting the best price for the work. In this market, many building managers and owners now have unusable, heavily-contaminated buildings. They got what they paid for! It is extremely important to understand the hazard potential of free, respirable asbestos fibers. Should you rank the hazard potential of all known carcinogens, asbestos would be second in its potential only to ionizing radiation.
The facility owner needs to answer a number of questions.
The first one is simply: Do I have asbestos within my building? To find out, he contacts a reputable consultant who performs a Bulk Asbestos Material Survey. The result of this is a complete mapping out of all accessible friable and non-friable asbestos-containing materials in the building. This information can be used for many purposes.
The next question the owner needs to answer: is whether
the discovered asbestos materials are causing a negative health impact
on the building occupants as well as a liability from personal injury or
wrongful death lawsuits. To answer this, the asbestos consultant
performs 4 additional tasks:
(2) Then he makes abatement recommendations (removal, encapsulation, containment, or no action necessary).
(3) Next an asbestos fiber Contamination Survey is strongly recommended to determine the extent of hazard present as well as the decontamination operations which will be needed in the abatement program.
(4) Finally, on very large projects, the order of abatement is prioritized so that worst areas are addressed first.
Asbestos abatement costs are not low. To setup, remove,
cleanup, and dispose of it is a costly process, which must be done according
to various government regulations. Even so, these government regulations
were written many years ago and adhering to them will no longer be sufficient
to protect the owner's interests. To minimize civil suit liability
from occupants, visitors, workmen, other contractors and similar claims,
which are not covered under insurance policy protection, a set of state-of-the-art
asbestos abatement contract specifications must be customized for the requirements
of each project. All procedures, rules, and standards are spelled
out in detail in these specifications. The two main functions provided
by these specifications are to:
With a combination of light and electron microscopic analyses, the real and potential exposure to asbestos fibers can be quantified. A computerized health-risk assessment, based upon epidemiological data, can be provided which will give the chances for the development of lung cancer and mesothelioma by occupants of the assessed area. This is useful to the owner, whe may eventually be faced with asbestos illness/wrongful death lawsuits. The preliminary condition of the asbestos fiber contamination is needed to define the areas of cleanup for the contractor as well as in specifying the ultimate cleanliness of the work area.
An option at this point is to take appropriate samples to analyze for and document both the need for an abatement project and to identify the manufacturers of those asbestos materials present. This is needed should the owner desire to pursue a cost-reclamation suit against the asbestos manufacturers.
Now, the abatement project can begin under tight supervision and tighter inspection. The owner should follow the EPA recommended procedure of hiring their own asbestos consultant/industrial hygienist and laboratory. In this way, the owner's needs are safeguarded. In general, asbestos contractors lack the background and expertise to determine human health impact, coming commonly from such backgrounds as janitorial, painting, insulation, plumbing and heating/air conditioning. A built-in conflict of interest exists for the contractor between the additional cost of extra precautions versus the extra cleaning cycles which might be necessary with a lower quality, lower cost control plan. If the contractor chooses the less expensive alternatives, quality control costs are shaved from the project costs which then usually results in more contamination generated and left behind. Properly experienced consultants working for the owner will prevent this from occuring.
A total written and photographic record is produced by the industrial hygienist/consultant, along with all laboratory test results. This resulting document is the real, long-term value which will provide the owner's long-range insurance against erroneous lawsuits. Part of this package is a certification that the abatement work has provided a specified level of cleanliness and the area is safe for reoccupation.
Various control techniques, such as negative air filtration, glove bag use and mobile vacuum systems are brought into play in state-of-the-art asbestos removals. Without these techniques, your contamination will spread to surrounding areas and the ultimate level of cleanliness will suffer. Proper attention to details such as cross-ventilation, air currents, leakage from the work area and work practices is a must during all phases of the removal, no matter which technique is used.
For asbestos materials which must be left in place temporarily,
an Operations and Maintenance Program needs to be set up.
The objectives of this are to:
(2) Prevent releases of asbestos fibers during normal building maintenance or renovation and subsequent human exposures. This is done by labeling all asbestos materials and avoiding them unless equipped for protection and cleanup.
(3) Periodically monitor building contamination levels. This provides an accurate record at the microscopic level and allows an early detection of a material damage condition.
In conclusion, a successful abatement program incorporating
all the required phases can result in a most dramatic removal of the asbestos
hazard from a structure. An incomplete or poorly-conducted program
will guarantee additional and unnecessary exposure with calculable increases
in cancer risks. In most public buildings, you are faced with safety
concerns such as fire, structural and mechanical system performances.
Asbestos awareness must also be entered in your daily duties.
(No Figures Accompany This Text --- JHG]