Exposure to airborne asbestos fibers can cause very serious health problems, including severe respiratory diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Any asbestos materials that are damaged, deteriorated, or friable are likely to release asbestos fibers into the air, and therefore should be removed. However, improper removal of asbestos is very dangerous, and can sometimes lead to an exposure risk level higher than that caused by the damaged or deteriorated asbestos-containing materials (ACM). Therefore, there are many precautions that asbestos removal companies must take in order to ensure that asbestos materials are removed safely.
During asbestos removal, it is the responsibility of the asbestos removal contractor to make sure that building occupants are not exposed to asbestos fibers. There are several precautions that an asbestos professional will take to accomplish this goal. Before beginning any asbestos removal project, the asbestos removal company must isolate the regulated work area in order to prevent airflow between the isolated work area and the rest of the building. This is usually accomplished with polyethylene sheeting, duct tape, and other such materials. In addition, the isolated area must also be subject to what is called “negative pressure. That means that the work area will always be drawing clean air in from outside the isolated section and exhausting filtered clean air from the work area. This is accomplished by using negative air pressure machines equipped with HEPA filters. The asbestos professional should also post an “occupant protection plan” detailing the steps they will take to protect building occupants outside of each regulated area, as well as observing proper abatement techniques and appropriate worksite cleanup, waste handling, and decontamination procedures, in order to ensure that building occupants are not being exposed to asbestos fibers.
Depending on the complexity of the project, preparation tasks prior to asbestos abatement can take as much time as the actual removal of the asbestos materials. Precautions must be taken to protect asbestos removal workers as well. There exists something called the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL), which is set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as a guideline on the level of asbestos exposure that is considered to be a health risk to workers. Workers are assigned specific respiratory protection to prevent them from being exposed to asbestos fibers exceeding the PEL. Workers are also required to wear full-body disposable suits, gloves, and foot covers. Despite these stringent safety regulations, asbestos removal often does not take as long as one might expect. Many asbestos removal projects can be completed in a few hours. Of course, some large projects can take weeks, months, or even years to complete. For larger projects, the work areas are usually divided into many sections or phases. The length of time necessary to complete a project is also influenced by the type of asbestos materials, ease of access, and configuration of the work area. It will take far longer to remove asbestos ceiling material from a gym that is 30 feet high then a classroom ceiling that may be only 10 feet high.