Questions & Answers

Asbestos Removal Questions & Answers

We frequently get a lots of questions to do with asbestos so we put together a pretty large list of typical Questions and Answers. Feel free to call us if you still have questions!

What’s asbestos removal?

  • Definition: Asbestos removal is a process by which the contractor takes out the roof sheets, ceiling boards, insulation, gaskets and other asbestos containing materials and structures from the place of installation.
  • Methods: The OSHA regulations for the removal of ACM (Asbestos Containing Materials with concentration higher than 1%) specify the safety work practices. The basic methods include the use of safety gadgets, surface wetting devices, enclosure, work area isolation, and application of dust proof power tools.
  • Equipment: The safety gadgets include synthetic protective clothing (head, body and foot cover and gloves), respirators, pressure sprayer (water), HEPA vacuum cleaners, steam blowers, power tools and covered bins.
  • Preparation: The first step in asbestos removal is to ensure worker safety. Wearing of synthetic protective clothing ensures prevention of ACM penetration. Exposure to asbestos concentration should be limited to less than 0.1FPC/8 hours work schedule. Surface wetting with pressure sprayer (water + wetting agent) prepares the work area. Using HEPA vacuum cleaners can eliminate the dust to the maximum extent.
  • Initiation: Using safety enclosure to isolate the work area helps in containing the ACM to the limited space. Removal of false ceiling, sealing of ventilation ducts, installation of temporary Polyethylene enclosure, floor covering, insulation jacketing, and installation of glove bags are the initial procedures.
  • Procedure: Removal of ACM from the ceiling, walls, windows and doors and other interiors is closely followed by the collection of dust into the bags through the power tools. Dust control happens at the source, near the partition and the exteriors. Wetting is considered to be the most efficient method for preventing ACM pollution. The dust bags are removed from the work area and replaced with empty bags frequently. The workers can use the pressure washers and vacuum cleaners to eliminate the dust, while the debris can be collected in the bags and disposed off.

What is an asbestos removal control plan?

  • Definition: The asbestos removal control plan is a detailed document prepared by the contractor according to the worker health /environment safety regulations act. It contains the procedures for the site preparation, ACM condition, emergency planning, hazard control, personal protective gears, air monitoring, site management, tools and equipment, decontamination and other control measures. Disposal and recycling of waste is the key element included to ensure eco friendly procedures. Emergency measures like the first aid, evacuation plan and medication facilities are to be implemented according to the respective annexure in the document.
  • Worker Health: The personal protective equipment consists of three key gears namely the overall, RPE and the foot protection. The overall consists of synthetic coated disposable hood (type 5-category 3 of the ISO-13982-1-PREN) with sealed cuffs, tucked legs, and extra size fitting. The hood should have no external pockets and fasteners and it should be tear and penetration proof. Full face respirator with eye protection, non-laced footwear, and gloves with taped wrists are the other required equipment.
  • Environment Safety: Environment safety has to be ensured by following the recommended methods for wet spray, water injection, and dry methods (in locations nearby electrical installations). Installation of barricades, enclosures, dust extractors and bags, debris collection equipment (closed), floor covers, and ventilation sealing are some of the mandatory environment safety procedures.
  • Equipment & Tools: The equipment and tools are broadly categorized into inspection, removal; cleaning; decontamination and disposal applications. Industrial grade power tools are to be used only for disconnecting the asbestos sheets from the ceiling, walls rooftops etc. No cutting and breaking of sheets is allowed. Using PVC sealants is recommended for damaged parts on the sheets. The other allowed equipment and tools are the shot blasters, scarifying and grinding tools, and vacuum cleaners.
  • Inspection procedure: The inspection procedure involves the testing of location (indoor, protected outdoor, basement, duct enclosed, or exposed outdoor), ACM condition (painted, broken, damaged, weathered etc), barricades, safety from hazardous elements, and the protective equipment. The application of safety methods and efficient equipment is evaluated and recorded in the control plan. The inspectors ensure conformance to the standards of air monitoring, ACM control, removal procedures, visual clearances, and application of the proper tools. The control plan document also lists out the details of hand tools, powdered and spray equipment, and the vacuuming machinery. Tools and equipment testing is a mandatory procedure before the work starts. It ensures proper maintenance, safety and eco friendly conditions, besides ensuring efficient output. Calibration of all the measuring and monitoring tools should be performed according to the ISO standards specified above.
  • Removal Procedure: The procedure starts with the identification of the removal areas. According to the ISO standards, it is divided into Class A (Friable asbestos) and Class B (non-friable asbestos) removal works. Working with friable asbestos takes more safety measures as it gets reduced to powder form easily. Removal equipment and tools are directly connected to the dust proof ducts which carry it to the disposable bags. Monitoring the sealing, transportation and recycling of the material with efficient eco friendly treatments can reduce the hazards to a considerable extent. Disposal of non-friable asbestos is relatively safer as it is resistant to abrasions, damages and emissions. Usage of vacuum cleaners is preferable for dry asbestos removal. Locations nearby electrical cables, connectors, panels, and installations can depend on this method. The wetting method of removal involves the usage of water and a wetting agent to prevent the fumes and powder emission from the removal site.
  • Decontamination Procedure: The decontamination procedure listed in the asbestos removal control plan consists of cut, dig, wrap and dispose procedures. Water and decontamination solvents are to be procured and used according to the standard specifications. If a particular piece or part of the construction is beyond the scope of decontamination, the contractor shall make every effort to dispose them after ensuring the wrapping in air tight bags and containers. The asbestos removal control plan also contains specific procedures for the decontamination of the soil and waste disposal methods, apart from the recycling methods that have to be followed by the contractor within the work area.

How safe is asbestos removal?

Asbestos removal is considered to be safe as long as the contractor and the workers follow the standard safety procedures and work within the limitations of the guidelines. The ISO-13794 classifies the airborne asbestos based on fiber concentration per cubic meter. The key issues to be addressed by the contractor are related to the prevention of health hazards, safe removal methods, air monitoring and cleaning, decontamination, waste control and disposal, and applying the controls during the removal work.

  • Respiratory protection: This is the key element for worker safety and health protection. There are many types of protective devices including the half-face respirator, particulate filter, powered & ventilated respirator, full face particulate filter, full face air purifying respirator and the positive pressure airline respirator. The selection of the equipment depends on the scale of operation and concentration of asbestos. The class-A type of friable asbestos removal that involves prolonged wet stripping, dry stripping, insulation and gasket removal, and working within the enclosed areas need full face powered filters and purifiers. Half face particulate filters are recommended for the class-B removal of non-critical and undamaged asbestos like the sheets, roof installations, and tiles. P1 and P2 types of filters are recommended under the ISO-EN-143 standards for the class-B works, while P3 filters are mandatory for the Class-A type of asbestos removal works.
  • Hood Design: The synthetic coated disposable hood covers the complete body of the worker from the head to the feet. The head cover and the respiratory protection overlap each other, making it completely safe from the airborne particulates for the worker. The hood material has to be abrasion and tear resistant. Elasticized material usage for the cuffs, wrists, and neck will ensure flexibility while preventing deformation of the material. The hood should have no external pockets and have high resistance to fiber penetration.
  • Other Tools: The other accessories are the shoes, hand gloves, face protection mask (glass or strengthened transparent fiber) and the related parts. The contractor shall ensure conformance of these parts to the ISO-EN standards. The other safety equipment includes portable ladders, brushes, rags, duct tapes, disposal bags, water supply pipes, power supply lines, and the decontamination units.

How asbestos removal works

Asbestos depositions can happen at home, office, industrial and erection sites and other areas during construction and repair works. The removal procedure starts with site inspection and planning. The inspectors analyze the probable risks from the existing conditions (ex: damages, leaks, thermal exposure etc). Then they assess the work volume and organize the tools & equipment, water and power supply lines, safety and protection kit, disposal and decontamination unites etc.

  • Trained Personnel: The deployment of trained personnel is the key to safety and health protection of the residents. They can ensure complete removal and post removal cleaning to keep the surroundings free from pollutants. Personal safety equipment including the respiratory protection, hood, gloves and shoes are mandatory.
  • Enclosure Design: The construction of the enclosure is for the prevention of asbestos spreading outside the removal areas. High density plastic sheets (thickness of 200 µm) should enclose the walls, floor, ceiling, windows and all the ventilation points. Adequate lighting has to be ensured within the enclosure. Ventilation for air flow may not be a problem as the workers wear respiratory protection equipment with safe and fresh oxygen supplies.
  • Equipment and Procedure: The selection of equipment depends on the nature and concentration of asbestos deposition. Class A type of asbestos is generally brittle and it emits fumes and micro sized particulates. The vacuum cleaner with HEPA fitting works well to extract the particulates from narrow and crammed areas with ease. Wetting the surfaces with PVA mixed water can reduce the air pollution to considerable extent. Power drills can be used to remove the fasteners from the asbestos sheets and tiles. The tool also helps in cutting, abrading and grinding the hard to break asbestos parts and concrete joints. It is better to avoid cutting or breaking of sheets unless they are damaged or have become brittle. The suction pipes should be connected to the dust collection bags and sealed once they get filled. Air testing during the removal helps in controlling the particulate emission by changing the removal methods. Loose debris has to be handpicked and stored in disposal bags. Restricting the electrical equipment to battery operated devices ranging between 30volts and 100 volts (unless higher power tools are required) can reduce the probability of short circuits and other hazards. Air locked doors can help in controlling the spread of pollutants outside the removal areas.
  • How it Works: The creation of negative air pressure (approximately -5PA-0.02”) can be achieved by the installation of HEPA filters near the exhaust units of the vacuum cleaners. The suction power of the vacuum extracts the wet ACM and other fine particles. The crevice tool, filter and the rubber brush connected to the equipment helps in rubbing the deposits of asbestos from the cleaning surfaces. Some of the tools have scrappers for scrubbing the hard deposits. The suction capacity of the cleaner determines the effort and time consumption for the removal.

How long after asbestos removal is it safe

The safe waiting period after the removal of asbestos varies from 24 to 48 hours. Following the post removal procedures can help reduce the time frame considerably. An independent expert should test the air quality after the removal is complete and the decontamination is done. Then he will know the concentration.  If it is less than 0.01FPC it is considered to be relatively safer. Using the high power filters and air blowers can clean the air much faster. But it could be expensive if the cleaning area is large. Using the water spray and damp duster also helps in removing the residual asbestos from the interiors. The procedure has to be repeated until the final testing shows the air to be free from all types of contaminants and damaging elements.

How dangerous is asbestos removal

The risk levels involved in the asbestos removal determine how dangerous the process is. The risks can increase when the concentration and nature of asbestos deposits are beyond the tolerance limits as specified in the ISO-EN standards. The standards vary (categorization based on Class A/B and class 1, 2, 3 and 4) across the world, but the general guidelines remain the same.

  • Exposure: Working without the OSHA certified respiratory protection device can result in increased risks for the workers. The primary risk is the reduced lung volume due to deposition of particulates. It could lead to the asbestosis condition wherein the workers experience shortness of breath, dry cough, chest pain, and chest pain. The other risks could be lung cancer, and tuberculosis. Post removal exposure risk is for the residents. Detailed clinical examination of the residents exposed to particulates shows the risk of lung carcinoma, lung disorders, and Pleural Mesothelioma (Cancer of the lung’s protective lining).
  • Duration: The duration of exposure to class I (highly concentrated particulates from ceiling, siding, flooring, ducts and pipes, concrete, and the plaster boards) asbestos is considered to be risky when it exceeds 60 minutes. Construction/demolition workers, plumbers, painters, and brick layers have the highest risk of exposure. Class II asbestos comes from shingles, mastics, wallboards, and floor tiles. Duration of exposure to this class of asbestos can be risky when it exceeds 24 to 48 hours. Residents living and working in the premises are the primary risk groups. Class III asbestos comes from ACM (Asbestos Containing Materials) which may pollute the environment when disturbed (tile removal, siding repairs etc). The residents and employees working in the premises are the primary risk groups. Class IV asbestos is the derivative of the first 3 classes. The particulates mainly stay within the floor tiles, costing, roofs, and the interiors of the floors. Risks associated with exposure may not be visible in the short term. The residents may develop the symptoms related to breathing disorders and lung diseases from 1 to 10 years (when the premises are kept unclean and without complete asbestos removal).

Why remove asbestos

The primary reason for asbestos removal is to protect the health and well being of the residents. The risk increases when the asbestos containing materials get damaged. It can result in emission of particulates which enter the lungs. The short term risks are related to lung cancer, asbestosis, Mesothelioma, and pleural thickening.

  • Amphibole Asbestos Mineral: This mineral can be found mainly in the roofs, ceilings, walls and sidings containing asbestos. In the industries it can be found in boilers, gaskets and pipes, appliances and machinery ducts. Paints, sealants and children’s toys can also contain traces of this mineral. The associated risks are lung blocking, lung volume reduction, dry cough, and lung disorders. The Amphibole is a group of minerals which contains six constituents called amosite, tremolite, chrysolyte and others. All of them are categorized under the high risk minerals.
  • Asbestos in Concrete: The concrete structures contain finest particulates (between 0.1 and 0.2FPC). They can be found within the residential interiors, offices, commercial buildings etc. They get released into the air over a period of time (from 1 month to more than 1 year). They can cause lung term diseases like the lung cancer and tuberculosis.
  • Asbestos in Paints: The asbestos in paints can penetrate the lungs and skin when the residents get exposed to it. Using the room heaters and air cleaning devices can activate the particulates, resulting in harmful emissions.

Why is asbestos removal expensive?

The costs involved in asbestos removal depend on the factors like total area of removal, concentration levels, nature of the removal site (residential, commercial, industrial etc), and the deposition locations (walls, ceilings, siding, roofs, pipes and ducts, machinery etc).  Every contractor will have a minimum removal fee which may vary.

  • Material Costs: The volume of materials used in the asbestos removal process can be high even for small scale operations. Some of the most commonly used materials include respiratory protection devices, HEPA vacuum cleaners, overall protection hood, dust collection bags, pressure pumps, wetting agents, tools and equipment. The expenses depend on the quantity and numbers needed for the removal. Disposable protection devices cost more than reusable devices (ex: hoods, shoes and gloves). Though many of the contractors do have the obligation of providing the protective devices, they may charge the rentals. When using the disposable equipment the costs are to be paid by the client.
  • Worker Costs: The per-hour worker costs could be the most expensive part. The costs vary depending on the procedures for pre inspection, assessment and evaluation, planning, removal, air testing, cleaning, post removal inspection and maintenance (if required).
  • Disposal Costs: To avoid the disposable costs, one must ensure the responsibility of disposal is taken by the contractor. Otherwise, it can be an additional cost factor. The local, state and federal government laws are very strict concerning the hazards from asbestos waste. Hence, working with the licensed contractors can help reduce this cost to considerable extent.

Is asbestos removal dangerous?

When the contractors use the right kind of protective devices and follow the OSHA and ISO guidelines, the process of asbestos removal could be highly safe. The risks start when the home owners try to use the DIY procedures for the removal. The risks can be in many forms.

  • Personal protection: The high end devices are expensive and hence cannot be bought by home owners. So they may opt for inexpensive alternates which increase the risk of exposure. The same risk applies to the overall protection hoods, shoes and gloves.
  • Improper procedure: Use of improper devices (ex: home vacuum cleaners), untrained personnel, and unsafe methods can lead to increased risk of particulates depositions within the premises in the post removal period. Improper/no air testing can lead to incomplete removals and air cleaning methods.

The recommended procedure is to contact a professional (licensed) asbestos removal company and complete the procedures without taking any risks.