The Dreaded News – You have Asbestos!
For any homeowner, the notion that asbestos-containing materials might be in your house is frightfully disturbing. It brings to mind a whole host of scary health risks and complications, lung diseases, and mesothelioma being among them. One particular type of mesothelioma can cause a type of cancer that can be fatal. News of an infestation is nothing short of terrifying and dealing with removal should be quickly sought out and abatement completed.
A Brief History
There was widespread use of this carcinogenic material because of its low cost, high durability and resistant to heat making it a favourable component in building materials. The health risks were not discovered until the 1920s. It was banned from construction from use in the U.S. in 1978. Any U.S. home built prior to 1978 has a good chance of containing the material.
Unfortunately, Australia didn’t ban this deadly carcinogen until 2003. In Adelaide, there is an alarming number of homes known to be built using the dangerous material. In Australia, one out of every three homes is thought to contain this contaminant. The Australian Cancer Council reported that there were 759 new mesothelioma cases in 2014. In Adelaide and elsewhere if your home was built prior to the 1990s it would be a wise choice to have your home tested. The most common suspect areas are loose-fill insulation, popcorn ceiling texture, and house siding. It was often also used in caulking, roofing materials, cement pipes, drywall, heating ducts, paint, and floor tiles.
Can I Do the Removal Myself?
Unfortunately, this question is not as cut and dried as you might like. Without a doubt, the safest and easiest approach to asbestos removal is hiring a professional asbestos removal company. This issue rises to a level of seriousness where you may sidestep the idea of a do-it-yourself method in order to save money and instead elect to leave the abatement process to professionals who have two key components that a homeowner does not; the all-important experience of working in abatement, and the specialized tools and materials to complete removal safely. Also, if the affected area is extensive, it is illegal to remove more than 10m2 of the dangerous material unless you are a licensed professional.
If you are suspicious that there is an issue in your home, you should first isolate the area and leave it alone. Any action or factor that might disturb the material will cause it to powder and spread all over your home. Tainted areas generally don’t present a health hazard if un-disturbed. This is not the case if the material is crumbling, flaking or shows signs of deterioration. Other than testing the area, it should be entirely avoided up and until the actual abatement process is to begin.
Are there Federal Restrictions?
Presently, there are no federal regulations banning a homeowner from tackling the removal themselves. However, it should be taken into consideration that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strongly recommends hiring a professional for the abatement. Also, the EPA does not mandate that you use a professional; they do strongly advise that you hire an accredited abatement professional. It is plainly stated that “federal law does not require for persons who inspect, repair or remove contaminated materials in a detached single-family home to be trained and accredited.” On the federal level, you are not prohibited from removing the dangerous material yourself, but there can be a tangled web of restrictions to navigate at the local level.
Possible Local Restrictions:
Before endeavouring to confront your problem on your own, you will want to look into any restrictions that might exist locally. It cannot be universally said whether you can or can’t legally remove asbestos on your own. Within your particular state, county, and city, there may be regulations about the self-removal that vastly differ from the federal regulations. In some areas, the homeowner must obtain a conventional demolition permit before beginning any demolition work in areas where there are asbestos-containing materials. In Seattle, Washington, it requires not one but two separate permits to do the work yourself. It is simply impossible to generalize any baseline standard policies around self-removal.
How Would I Find Out Restrictions in My Area?
Your best source of information to determine the exact requirements and legality of self-removal in your area is to contact the local building department or your health department. Again, it is essential that you research the policies in your area, but the information below outlines a generic approach to self-removal followed in many counties.
Those restrictions at a glance are:
- Residential & not commercial projects
- Single-family residences only
- Permits required – sometimes multiple permits
- Proper disposal of tainted materials
Residential and not commercial projects
Choosing to do the removal yourself is limited to residential properties only. If the property is a commercial building, using a certified abatement profession is required.
Single-family residences only
In order to prevent any chances of cross-contaminating an attached building or residence, self-removal may only be performed on single-family residences. This includes houses, mobile homes, houseboats, detached garages, and detached guesthouses or perhaps a mother-in-law dwelling. The key here is that the residence in question cannot have attached walls to other dwellings. In other words, you may not move ahead with self-removal if it involves multiple-family dwellings (an apartment, condominium, townhouse, or duplex). It is also not allowed in instances where there are mixed-use buildings where there are attached walls.
Just as you might expect, you will be required to pull a permit in most cases. The most critical component of this demolition permit is in removing the tainted materials. The wisest choice is to contact your local building department to obtain the most specific and current information in your particular area.
There are of course specific concerns in disposing of contaminated materials. In performing a do-it-yourself abatement, you cannot simply dump the materials in your home garbage for standard pickup. There are approved facilities where this material must be discarded. In most communities, materials containing as little as one percent asbestos will still be required to be disposed of in an approved facility.
Asbestos Testing Process
You can seek out a variety of asbestos testing kits to validate that you have a problem. DIY kits are usually a two-step process and in some cases, you can get results within four hours. These DIY kits are effective at providing a baseline indicator that you have an issue, but these commercial kits for testing shouldn’t be viewed as entirely reliable. For a much more dependable result, you might consider having the tainted materials evaluated by an EPA-certified laboratory.
Let’s Sum It All Up
To be perfectly honest, taking on asbestos removal is doable, but the incredible risk involved makes the endeavour highly questionable. The risks are a huge detouring factor for even the most determined do-it-yourself consumer. Once a tainted area is disturbed, small fibres are released into the air and inhaled and this can potentially cause severe breathing difficulties and even lead to mesothelioma and lung cancer. For most of us, these life-threatening effects more than rise to the urgency level where it makes the most sense to have it dealt with by a professional.
Written by Amanda Anthonysz