WHAT IS ASBESTOS? IS IT HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring, mostly fibrous mineral and may consist of any one of a number of silicates. Asbestos is used in a variety of products because of its physical properties, which make it resistant to heat, fire, and many caustic chemicals. Asbestos has been used extensively as fireproofing, an insulating agent, and for decorative purposes, among many other uses.
The physical properties that give asbestos its resistance to heat and decay are linked with several adverse human effects. Asbestos tends to break into a dust of microscopic fibers. Because of their size and shape, these tiny fibers can remain suspended in the air for long periods of time and can easily penetrate bodily tissue when inhaled. Because of their durability, these fibers can remain in the body for many years.
Asbestos is known to cause asbestosis and various forms of cancer. Asbestosis is a chronic disease of the lungs which makes breathing progressively more difficult, and can lead to death. Cancer can result from breathing asbestos fibers and lung cancer is the most frequent. Mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the chest and abdominal membranes, almost never occurs without exposure to asbestos. Asbestos related diseases have a long latency period and do not show up until 10 to 40 years after exposure. Each exposure increases the likelihood of developing an asbestos-related disease.
Material containing 1% asbestos fibers or more by weight is regulated. For this guide the term asbestos includes asbestos containing material and waste materials contaminated with asbestos.
DOES ASBESTOS HAVE TO BE REMOVED?
If asbestos is in good condition and it does not pose a health hazard, no laws or regulations require that it be removed. However, building owners are required to keep asbestos in good repair to prevent releases of visible or particulate asbestos emissions under state and federal regulations. If a demolition/renovation or repair activity could cause damage to asbestos-containing material, then it is required that the asbestos be removed prior to the activity. Demolition of a building requires that all asbestos be removed prior to demolition.
DO I NEED TO CONDUCT A THOROUGH ASBESTOS INSPECTION PRIOR TO ANY RENOVATION OR DEMOLITION ACTIVITY?
All residential, commercial and institutional buildings are subject to Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (Mass DEP) asbestos regulations at 310 CMR 7.15. Therefore, owners and/or operators (e.g. building owners, renovation and demolition contractors, plumbing and heating contractors, flooring contractors, etc.) need to determine all asbestos containing materials (both non-friable and friable) that are present at the site and whether or not those materials will be impacted by the proposed work prior to conducting any renovation or demolition activity.
Examples of commonly found asbestos containing materials include, but are not limited to, heating system insulation, floor tiles and vinyl sheet flooring, mastics, wallboard, joint compound, decorative plasters, asbestos containing siding and roofing products and fireproofing.
Failure to identify and remove all asbestos containing material prior to its being impacted by renovation or demolition activities can result in significant penalty exposure, and higher clean-up, decontamination, disposal and monitoring cost.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY BUILDING CONTAINS ASBESTOS? HOW DO I CHOOSE A CONTRACTOR?
Hire a Department of Labor Standards (DLS) certified asbestos consultant to determine if asbestos is present and whether removal/repair is necessary. If the building is a state-owned facility, contact the Department of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) and DLS. DLS provides a list of licensed asbestos abatement contractors and consultants. You may wish to ask about a contractor's history of violations. Only DLS licensed and DLS certified asbestos abatement contractors and consultants may be hired to perform asbestos-related work in Massachusetts.