APC on Asbestos

From the APC History:

Nature of the Material

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral whose unique qualities have been recognized since ancient times.  It is resistant to fire and heat; strong, inorganic and nearly indestructible and has superb acoustical qualities.  Because it is a fibrous material easily worked and capable of being produced in a number of forms, its qualities have led to its use for a variety of building applications.  In modern times it has been used in over 3,000 building products for both commercial and residential applications, including insulating materials, floor tiles, siding and roofing materials in addition its fibers have been used as a reinforcing material in many other products.

Health Risks

By 1900 it was known that asbestos could also cause health problems including asbestosis, a lung disease, and mesothelioma, lung cancer.  Both are ultimately fatal and there is no known cure.  The concern is with airborne fibers as the route of entry to the body is through respiration.  The nature of the material is that, once disturbed, the fibers remain airborne for extended periods of time, increasing the risk of inhalation.  Although the risk comes from cumulative doses, even minute quantities have been proven to cause cancer.  The National Cancer Institute has listed asbestos as an occupational carcinogen and it is listed as a special waste by the EPA, OSHA and DOT.  During the late 1970’s and 1980’s, laws were promulgated at federal, state and even municipal levels to govern its use, handling and disposal.

Methods of Abatement

At present, there is not a requirement that asbestos be removed where it has been used as a building or insulating material unless it has been disturbed or will be disturbed as in renovation or demolition.  In schools and public buildings in Maine asbestos is required to be removed or contained if it is damaged and capable of releasing fibers to the air.

The three approved methods of asbestos abatement are encapsulation, where the asbestos is covered with a material, that will prevent its release to the air; enclosure, where the area containing asbestos is closed off to prevent contaminated air from mixing with uncontaminated air; and removal.  All methods are extensively governed by laws and regulations dealing with protective procedures for handling, storage and disposal and, in most states, licensing is required for those who handle it.  Licenses generally require extensive training and periodic refresher training.

The public health risk is generally perceived to be minimal and existing laws and regulations are aimed at occupational exposure where the risk is greatest.

Recognizing that legislation is now beginning to require similar handling of lead paint, Abatement Professionals embarked on an education and training program that has resulted in its licensing as a lead abatement contractor in Maine (none is presently required in New Hampshire) and is now doing lead encapsulation, enclosure and removal work throughout Maine and in Central and Northern New Hampshire.