During any renovation project, large or small, where asbestos was disturbed safe work practices need to be implemented. Due to the health risks associated with inhaling asbestos, regular cleanup methods are not an option.
OSHA has published a list of prohibited work practices associated with asbestos.
Included in these prohibited practices is something referred to as “dry cleaning”. Asbestos should never be shoveled, vacuumed with a conventional vacuum cleaner or broom swept while it is dry. Compressed air should never be used to remove dust or debris. Finally, asbestos-containing material should never be cut, sanded, or subjected to grinding using any type of power tools without a HEPA vacuum exhaust collection system at the working point. All of these methods are prohibited due to the fact that they will redistribute asbestos fibers into the air.
So how do you clean asbestos debris from a site?
The following are safe work practices that need to be implemented when trying to clean any dust or debris containing asbestos.
First of all, it should be stressed that handling dust or debris that contains asbestos without proper training and personal protective equipment can be very detrimental to one’s health. Cleaning up debris or dust from an asbestos project may seem like a small task but is very important to take steps to minimize exposure to that dust. Asbestos is unique in the fact that the fibers can fracture into very small, sharp pieces. These fibers are so small that they require a microscope to be seen and some so small that an electron microscope must be used to observe the smallest of these fibers. For this reason, asbestos fibers can be inhaled deeply into the lungs where they become lodged. Because asbestos is a very strong mineral and cannot be broken down or dissolved, it can remain in the lungs indefinitely. Over time this can cause serious lung disease and cancer in some people.
If possible, you should contact a licensed asbestos abatement contractor to perform this work. If you are unable to hire a licensed company to clean up the debris or leaving the material will create an immediate hazard to occupants. Here are a few tips.
Never handle asbestos dust or debris while it is dry. Asbestos dust can easily become airborne and stick to your clothes, hair, or skin. Therefore, it is good to use disposable coveralls with a hood and boots over your clothes. The material should be wetted with water by using a lower pressure sprayer. A pump-up garden sprayer works best. A small amount of liquid soap added to the water will help it to penetrate more thoroughly and reduce the possibility of raising dust. Carefully use wet rags or paper towels to collect the dust and throw the waste, rags and all, into disposable plastic garbage bags. Always keep the material wet. Dry asbestos particles, if disrupted, can easily become airborne and spread. A HEPA-equipped vacuum can also be used if one is available. This should be a specific vacuum specially designed for asbestos clean-up. Not all household HEPA vacuum cleaners are sealed properly for this type of work. The HEPA filter on the vacuum will contain the microscopic asbestos fibers and prevent them from recirculation into the air. Anything that the HEPA vacuum does not clean up can be “wet wiped” as described above. All rags and cover-alls worn by workers need to be bagged and disposed of as asbestos waste. Be sure to shower and launder any clothing that comes into contact with asbestos dust.