Asbestos Fears Went Out With Jazzercize - Right?
I remember over 10 years ago, I met with a seasoned (and maybe slightly cynical) manager on a job site in San Leandro. I was doing my best (and failing) to show off my contractor skills, by speaking demonstratively about the particular rot problem at hand. In his wisdom, he listened for just a bit and then gave me a piece of advice I haven't forgotten.
"You really don't have to be alarmist - it doesn't help."
I still think about that statement when I write these newsletters and converse with customers. Even though something may be a big deal - no one is impressed with my ability to blow it out of proportion. That advice has been swirling in my consciousness as I have pondered writing this article. What follows is not earth-shaking or paradigm shattering, but it is a substantive shift in understanding about something which has become doctrinaire over the past 3-4 decades.
We all know that you don't have to worry about asbestos testing in a building built after 1978 - right?
Remember, I'm not being alarmist, but about 50 red lights went on in my head when I was confronted with this inconvenient truth a few weeks back. I've spent the last few weeks checking and double checking my sources.
I, of course, started with the internet and quickly found NESHAP, National Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants. As I read, I was struck by a growing and overwhelming sense of...boredom. Wow, that was a lot of words, and some poor soul had to type every last one of them.
But when I clicked on the link to Renovation and Demolition of Buildings I sat up a little, squinted at my screen, and probably turned my eyebrows down in that emoticon way of expressing - Hmmm?
I'll quote it here, and be prepared to read it a couple times:
....Air toxics regulations under the Clean Air Act specify work practices for asbestos to be followed during demolitions and renovations of all facilities, including, but not limited to, structures, installations, and buildings (excluding residential buildings that have four or fewer dwelling units). The regulations require a thorough inspection where the demolition or renovation operation will occur. The regulations require the owner or the operator of the renovation or demolition operation to notify the appropriate delegated entity (often a state agency) before any demolition, or before any renovations of buildings that contain a certain threshold amount of regulated asbestos-containing material. The rule requires work practice standards that control asbestos emissions...Any demolition or renovation operation at an institutional, commercial or industrial building is regulated by the Asbestos NESHAP. At a minimum, the thorough inspection requirement applies. The notification requirements apply to any demolition and to renovations over a certain threshold amount of regulated asbestos-containing material.
Go ahead and read it again if you need to. But basically that just said that EVERY ONE of your condos is subject to NESHAP requirements, regardless of the date built. My next move was to find out what others were writing about this, and I quickly found the AMI EnvironmentalWebsitewhich stated:
"Yes. Even if your building was constructed after 1980, you still need to test for Asbestos-Containing Materials (ACM's) before starting renovations because all buildings (except for residential structures with four or fewer dwelling units) are subject to the EPA's Asbestos NESHAP Standard."
Knowing that the internet never lies, I nevertheless felt impelled to talk directly to an expert and phoned a friend of a friend, Michael Lee, Certified asbestos Consultant (CAC) and Environmental Consultant from National Analytical Lab (NAL). His opinion fell in lockstep with what I had been reading. We talked for over 20 minutes and he never budged.
There is no magic date back in the era of Jazzercise skin suits, jelly shoes, and fanny packs which marks the end of asbestos in a condominium. Again according to AMI Environmental:
"Contrary to popular belief, not all asbestos-containing products have been banned. In fact, there are still asbestos-containing products being manufactured today that are allowed for use in the United States. These include vinyl-asbestos floor tile, roofing felt and coatings, pipeline wrap, non-roofing coatings, and some cement products, among others."
No demolition should be occurring if a "jurisdictional building" (condos with 4 or more units fall under the jurisdiction of NESHAP and the EPA) has not had an asbestos survey completed for that building or that phase of the construction of a building. The age of the building doesn't matter.
There's also a misconception that if the affected area is under 100 square feet, then no one need be contacted or alarmed. False. Feel free under California Contractor's Licensing Law to do this work without an EPA permit - but you better still take the air containment precautions required by the EPA, or risk the unwanted attention of OSHA, EPA, and probably a few other snarling acronyms.
In a response letter to an inquiry the EPA stated - "For any facility, irrespective of the date when the facility was constructed, the Asbestos NESHAP requires the owner/operator, prior to a renovation or demolition operation, to conduct a thorough inspection either of the whole facility or the portion of the facility that will be affected by the renovation or demolition operation."
What would Michael Lee recommend? Get the buildings tested. Of course, he would love to be the one to test for you, but there are many labs capable of doing this work. Michael's lab can get samples tested in as little as 24 hours - and obtaining samples isn't as difficult as you might think. But that won't help you if the roof turned incontinent overnight and the remediation company won't start work without a certificate on site. This happened to me.
Let's face it - no one wants to be exposed to asbestos, not anymore, so it only makes sense to get the survey completed.
How to go about it?
Talk to Michael at NAL or Juan at Cal-Environmental Testing, or any other qualified Industrial Hygienist and they will guide you on the path to getting your building certified. Or give us a call at UPSI and we'll help you unravel the mystery for your specific situation. In the mean-time do your own research on this and bring your various boards of directors up to speed. The laws are on the books, and though like speed limits, they are inconvenient - they aren't going to go away any time soon.