Over the past several years, I’ve written and managed millions of dollars of asbestos abatement projects, and even though I try to prepare each prospective client for the amount of the asbestos abatement estimate, it seems so often after a client looks over their estimate, the question still comes: why is asbestos abatement so expensive?
In this article, I answer the question: why is asbestos abatement so expensive?
There are three main reasons asbestos abatement is so expensive:
Let’s take a cursory look at these three areas that contribute to why asbestos abatement is so expensive.
Below are the major agencies and regulations that affect the cost of anything to do with asbestos:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
OSHA is a federal organization that protects and assures laborers are working in a safe and healthy working environment. Due to the many health issues associated with asbestos, OSHA has regulations to protect workers from asbestos.
What OSHA regulates regarding asbestos in the workplace:
- Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) – This is the maximum amount of asbestos exposure that is allowed.
- Assessment – This mandates that all work places covered by OSHA standards be examined for asbestos.
- Monitoring – This mandates the monitoring of asbestos exposure limits within each industry to determine if the workplace complies with PEL as required.
- Warning Signs and Labels – This mandates that caution labels be placed on all areas that contain asbestos fibers.
- Decontamination and Lunch Areas – This mandates that decontamination and lunch areas be designated as separate areas where workers must practice proper hygiene if they were exposed to asbestos above the PEL.
- Protective Gear (PPE) – This mandates that employers provide adequate protective gear if their employee will be exposed to asbestos that is above the PEL.
- Training – This mandates that annual training must be provided to the employees who are exposed to higher PEL. Asbestos workers and supervisors must be re-certified every year by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
- Medical Surveillance – This mandates that employers in the general industry and shipyards be required by OSHA to implement a medical surveillance program for any worker who might be at risk of being exposed to asbestos levels above the PEL.
- Record keeping – This mandates that employers document asbestos exposure monitoring for a minimum of 30 years. Medical surveillance for the employee must be kept on file for the duration of employment, plus 30 years after, and training records must be kept on file for at least one year after employment.
To learn more about how OSHA impacts asbestos in the work place click on the link for the OSHA fact sheet.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The EPA was created to protect the US environment and its citizens by regulating substances that could potentially be harmful to both. Government organizations like the EPA have regulated asbestos to determine the acceptable level of asbestos to which humans can be exposed, how to remove asbestos from a facility safely, and what you are required to do by law if you discover asbestos.
How the EPA regulates asbestos through legislation or regulation:
- The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) – This law requires schools and other educational organizations to inspect buildings for asbestos containing material (ACM). If asbestos is found, the law requires officials to create an asbestos management plan and reduce asbestos levels within the affected buildings.
- Asbestos Information Act – This law mandates that companies who make any sort of asbestos containing product to report that production to the EPA.
- Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act (ASHARA) – Due to the impact of AHERA on schools, it became apparent that without any sort of assistance, school districts and educational facilities would suffer as they would not be able to financially support the response to asbestos found in schools. The ASHARA was implemented in 1990 as a companion to the AHERA that requires the EPA to assist, direct and enable educational institutions to be able to follow the correct protocol.
- Asbestos Model Accreditation Plan (MAP) – Issued under the AHERA, MAP provides guidelines on training requirements and accrediting asbestos professionals. Under the MAP, workers, supervisors, contractors (GACs), inspectors, management planners and project designers must all be trained.
- The Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) – These two pieces of legislation serve to ensure that our air and water is clean and safe. Under the CAA is the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), which has effectively banned asbestos containing spray that was used for fireproofing, insulating and decorating. Similar to the Clean Air Act, the SDWA is a piece of legislation that requires the EPA to set standards around the quality of public drinking water. Signed into law in 1976, the SDWA was part of an effort to bring public health regulations into the modern era.
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) – is a government-funded program (Superfund) that cleans up hazardous waste sites that are abandoned in the United States, including asbestos. Typically, asbestos removal is regulated by NESHAP and actions are taken based upon the health risk from the contaminated site itself and if the area is currently being used or may be used soon.
- Asbestos Worker Protection Rule – This rule applies to people who are state and local government employees but are not covered by OSHA’s asbestos regulations. Worker protection requirements are extended through the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
- Asbestos Ban and Phase out Rule (Remanded) – Most asbestos containing products were banned in the United States in 1989, but in 1991 that regulation was over-turned due to a loophole in the TSCA. Today, asbestos is still legal, though a few asbestos-containing products are still banned. However, in June 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was passed. This new act will provide new legislation allowing the EPA more control over toxic chemicals – regardless of the impact on industry profits.
- Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) – Because the asbestos fibers that can become airborne during building renovations and demolitions are hazardous, NESHAP regulations have been implemented to control asbestos exposure. Before a demolition or renovation, the building’s operator/owner must notify the appropriate state agency with a letter of intent. Specific procedures are then to be followed to control asbestos emissions caused by any activity that would break, dislodge or disturb the asbestos. Asbestos-containing waste must also be handled under specific removal guidelines. Operations also must follow specific procedures with removing asbestos-containing waste.
- Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) – The purpose of this government agency is to regulate consumer products that could potentially be harmful to the public by making sure that the products do not contain any unnecessary risks that would result in injury or death. Even though asbestos is a known hazardous material, some products in the United States are still allowed to contain a minimal level of asbestos, as long as the fibers are not in danger of becoming airborne.
- 1304 of the Consumer Product Safety Commission – declares that any patching compounds that contain intentionally-added free- form asbestos that can become airborne are banned. Artificial ashes and embers for gas fire places that contained asbestos are banned under the CPSC. Although most products produced today do not contain asbestos, some still do; those products are required to be labeled as such.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
The CDC is an agency under the Department of Health and Human Services. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is a section under the CDC. The purpose of NIOSH is to research and recommend different tactics that prevent work-place injury and illness.
In the case of asbestos, NIOSH conducts research by looking at the relationship between those who were exposed to asbestos and if the person has contracted an asbestos related illness. These studies also cover home contamination; protecting workers and their families and different methods used for asbestos containment.
Workers, employers and study participants are notified by the NIOSH about their findings and past research related to the exposures through a program called the NIOSH Worker Notification Program. The Manual of Analytical Methods (NMAM) was also developed by NIOSH to analyze and sample the contaminants in the workplace or workers’ blood/urine.
The results of these types of studies have helped confirm that asbestos fibers cause cancer and asbestosis in humans. NIOSH developed an exposure limit that reduces exposure to the “lowest feasible concentration.” The Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) is 100,000 fibers per cubic meter of air if the asbestos fibers are greater than 5 micrometers in length. This is tested by a 400-liter air sample taken over 100 minutes.
The following guidelines are recommended by NIOSH when it comes to limiting asbestos exposure:
- Do not handle or disturb loose vermiculite.
- Areas that contain asbestos should be isolated to avoid spreading the fibers.
- Do not used compressed air for cleaning.
- Use wetting methods/agents to reduce asbestos exposure when possible.
- Avoid dry methods such as sweeping or shoveling.
- Clothing worn must be protective and disposable (PPE), and do not wash work place clothes with other family clothing.
- Respiratory protection is required.
- Debris and waste contaminated with asbestos must be disposed of in accordance with OSHA and EPA standards.
Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
Under the United States Department of Labor is an agency known as the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). MSHA works in conjunction with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 to establish and enforce mine safety and health standards. The purpose of these standards is to eliminate and reduce the frequency of fatal and non-fatal accidents, health hazards and to promote safer working conditions.
In 2008, the MSHA set the same PELs as OSHA, which is 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter of air over an eight-hour time period, or 1.0 asbestos fiber per cubic centimeter of over a 30-minute period. To determine if asbestos fibers exceed the PEL, MSHA uses phase-contrast microscopy (PCM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM).
US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Established in 1965, HUD is part of the Cabinet department within the US government. Its mission is to provide and create strong communities and affordable homes, while strengthening the housing market.
When inspecting a building for use, an environmental report must be provided to the HUD that identifies any environmental issues with the property. The HUD in turn is then responsible for determining that there are not illegal environmental factors or elements that could potentially be a safety or health hazard.
Under the HUD, asbestos must be addressed in the environmental report and by the sponsor’s architect, if the building or structure was built before 1978. This means that on any building constructed before 1978, a qualified asbestos inspector must survey the entire building, locating and identifying the conditions of asbestos found.
If asbestos is found then the HUD enacts a combination of asbestos abatement and the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Program, which is an operation focusing on proper training, cleaning, work practices and surveillance to maintain and control asbestos and asbestos containing materials in buildings that are in good condition.
If the asbestos found is not damaged, then the HUD recommends the asbestos be encapsulated. Under the HUD, the cost of asbestos removal can be included in the mortgage. Finally, all asbestos removal products must be done in accordance with EPA and OSHA regulations.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)
In addition to all the federal agencies and regulations already mentioned above, in Colorado, the CDPHE adds yet one more layer of asbestos regulations the GAC and property owners must keep in mind.
The CDPHE regulates the asbestos industry under Colorado Regulation 8, Part B to include, but not be limited to:
- Certification of all asbestos personnel and training facilities
- GAC licenses
- Notifications: spills, intent to abate or demolish, waiver of 10-day notification period
- Permits to abate
- Abatement procedures
- Where asbestos debris may be disposed.
- Enforcement of Colorado and federal asbestos regulations in the state
LITIGATION & LIABILITY
It’s hard for me to draw a line between liability and litigation. If we perform a job, we are also liable for the job. If we perform a job poorly, we are still liable for that job, and if grossly mis-performed, then we’re probably also open to litigation by all injured parties.
There are also instances when accidents happen, and for that reason we are well-insured.
The CDPHE shows that there are over eighty cases of regulatory violations of Colorado Regulation 8, Part B, most of which have been found guilty: https://environmentalrecords.colorado.gov/HPRMWebDrawer/RecordHtml/1069493
The CDPHE can assess a penalty of up to $25,000.00 per day of violation, or such lesser amount as may be required by applicable federal law or regulation. In determining the amount of the penalty to be assessed, the division shall consider the seriousness of the danger to the public’s health caused by the violation, whether or not the violation was willful, the duration of the violation, and the record of the person committing such violation.
Below are a few articles I found in a cursory search showing asbestos violations and the kinds of fines associated with them in Colorado:
Apartment executive sentenced to federal prison for exposing Overlook at Mile High tenants to asbestos dust
Denver man ordered to pay $435,000 in fines related to asbestos violation
Demolition contractor who dumped asbestos in Colorado fined $1M
3 firms face fines in asbestos cleanup
Update on 4/6/18 – Asbestos spill costs Littleton family everything
Update on 4/19/18 – E.H. Henry School demolition controversy
Update on 5/2/18 – Asbestos spill costs Broomfield family everything – he struck again!
Regulations, litigation and liability add up to expensive
In a previous article (link), I show the asbestos abatement process step-by-step. If all the steps are followed and all regulations adhered to, then an asbestos abatement will be relatively expensive. Of course, a smaller company may have less overhead, so may be a bit less expensive, though the trade-off may be that they also have limitations on responsiveness.
At Advantage Environmental we take a, You Ask, We Answer approach. If you have any questions relating to asbestos, lead, mold or even restoration, please reach out to us and we will make time to answer your question! Phone Email
About the author – Tim Sharp has been in the construction industry for thirty years and has over ten years’ experience in project management in the restoration industry. Tim’s credentials include: Master Water Restorer, Master Fire & Smoke Restorer, Master Textile Restorer (IICRC), Lead Renovation, Repair & Painting (RRP – EPA) and Building Inspector (in Colorado – CDPHE)