Most Americans have heard of asbestos, and the cancerous health risks associated with exposure to the group of silicate minerals popular in construction materials up until the 1970s. But, did you know that the Clean Air Act requires that any and all commercial buildings in the U.S. set for demolition or renovation to be tested for asbestos? That’s where Environmental Works, Inc.’s Due Diligence team steps in.
Our team, comprised of almost a dozen certified asbestos inspectors, has completed inspections on commercial properties across the country, from historic buildings owned by small, family-owned businesses, to skyscrapers housing Fortune 500 companies.
Three team members – Hazardous Materials Inspection Manager Andrew Barchak, Environmental Scientist Laura Westfall, and Associate Scientist Nicole Lounsberry, recently completed a three-day asbestos inspection on a beautiful historic movie theater in a stately shopping plaza in Northwest Missouri.
Half of the four-story former movie theater, which includes a marquee in front of the entrance, is being renovated to retain its architectural charm. The other half of the theater is being demolished to make way for a new commercial opportunity.
EWI’s team of three went floor by floor collecting samples from the theater as part of its asbestos inspection using simple tools like hammers and chisels. Materials sampled included dry wall, floor tiles, ceiling tiles and insulation.
“Anything the builders could have put asbestos in,” said Westfall.
The samples were then sent to EMLab P&K, a leading commercial indoor air quality testing laboratory, and results were returned three days later. On the side of the building set for demolition, none of the sample materials came back positive for asbestos. On the other side of the building, where the theater is to be renovated, a sample of floor tile and some mastic in an office space upstairs came back positive for asbestos.
In this case, the demolition was allowed to proceed, but an abatement company was called in to do the asbestos abatement on the side set for renovation.
Asbestos was one of the first hazardous air pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act’s National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) air toxics program, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. The list of hazardous air pollutants (HAP), or “air toxics”, includes specific compounds that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects.
Air toxics regulations under the Clean Air Act specify work practices for asbestos to be followed during demolitions and renovations of all facilities, including, but not limited to, structures, installations, and buildings. The regulations require a thorough inspection where the demolition or renovation operation will occur, according to the EPA’s website.
The EPA adds that the regulations require the owner or the operator of the renovation or demolition operation to notify the appropriate delegated entity (often a state agency) before any demolition, or before any renovations of buildings that contain a certain threshold amount of regulated asbestos-containing material.
The EPA states that the purpose of commercial asbestos inspections, such as those carried out by EWI’s Due Diligence team, as well as any subsequent abatement work, are to “minimize the release of asbestos fibers during building demolition or renovation, waste packaging, transportation and disposal.”
Although popular belief says that the use of asbestos in construction and building materials faded in America in the years following the Clean Air Act and NESHAP, Westfall said asbestos is still being used in certain products, such as gaskets.
“It doesn’t matter when the property was built, it could still contain asbestos,” said Westfall.
In fact, the EPA has yet to fully ban asbestos products in the United States.