Any time you find asbestos in your home or believe asbestos might be hiding in floor tiles or drywall joint compound mixture, you should call a professional to assess the area. They will determine if repair or removal is required, so you aren’t exposed to the toxic substance.

This professional is called an “asbestos abatement worker” and their job is literally that: asbestos abatement.

What exactly does this mean, though? What do asbestos abatement workers actually do? And how do these workers stay safe from occupational asbestos exposure?

This blog provides an overview of asbestos abatement and safety guidelines for asbestos workers.

 

What is Asbestos Abatement?

Asbestos abatement is the process of removing or repairing deteriorating asbestos from a site, usually an old building that was constructed with the mineral. Asbestos was a popular choice up until the 1980s to help construct homes, offices, schools, plants and refineries, hospitals, government buildings and more to resist heat and maintain durability. .

As an example of how prevalent asbestos was in American construction projects, prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the World Trade Center buildings consisted of hundreds of tons of asbestos. The National Resources Defense Council estimates 300-400 tons of asbestos were used in the construction of the North Tower.

 

What Does Asbestos Abatement Work Entail?

There are no current laws against a homeowner or the owner of an office building trying to repair or remove asbestos themselves. However, this is very dangerous, and most government organizations and experts strongly suggest homeowners hire an asbestos professional for the job. These workers have proper training for handling dangerous substances and should have the recommended Personal Protective Equipment.

When asbestos abatement workers first arrive at a site where asbestos was spotted or is believed to be present, they will first inspect the area to determine the hazard level. Asbestos is only dangerous when it is disturbed and breaks apart, which means the mineral is not harmful when it’s intact and possibly encompassed within a mixture.

However, asbestos can be disturbed easily – by the slightest, inadvertent touch, or a nearby renovation project that shakes a floor tile or drywall panel. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s best interest to remove any asbestos spotted, even if it’s intact, as long as the work is done by an abatement professional.

Steps of Asbestos Abatement

Once the workers identify an asbestos risk in the building, they will create a work plan to safely remove the mineral. This plan could be prepared by a professional called an “industrial hygienist,” who examines the building and assesses the risk of asbestos.

The following additional steps are involved in asbestos abatement:

  • Mark hazardous areas and inform building occupants to leave the building until the project is complete.
  • Identify asbestos-containing building parts or materials through testing.
  • Seal air ducts, disable the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, secure any areas not being treated with thick plastic sheets.
  • Ventilate the building, if possible, by opening windows and doors to reduce the concentration of asbestos dust.
  • Utilize hand tools and wet methods to remove or repair the asbestos-containing materials. Use low-pressure equipment instead of water sprays, jets, saws, drills or other tools that may disperse asbestos.
  • Place the asbestos-containing materials into waste disposal bags, which are sealed and removed through a decontamination unit and decontamination chamber.
  • Use special vacuums to minimize the dispersing of asbestos fibers during the work.
  • Conduct air quality testing based on state and federal requirements to ensure the air in the building is safe for occupants.
  • Remove containment barriers and perform final cleaning tasks, such as vacuuming.

The process of asbestos abatement can be completed in 1-2 days, but it may take longer due to setting up the work site and cleaning after abatement is finished.

 

What Parts of a Building Might Require Asbestos Abatement?

Any part of a building subject to heat was likely insulated with asbestos during the 20th century. Other uses of asbestos are for durability, such as preserving the strength of joint compound mixtures.

Parts of a building potentially requiring asbestos abatement work include but are not limited to:

  • Pipe insulation
  • Duct insulation
  • Popcorn ceiling
  • Roof shingles
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Electrical wiring
  • Electrical panels
  • Drywall
  • Household appliances (toaster ovens, wood-burning stoves and wall sockets)
  • Furnaces or chimneys
  • Boilers and water heaters

 

What Is Personal Protective Equipment?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is any clothing or equipment intended to provide protection from a potential hazard, such as exposure to toxic chemicals or asbestos. For asbestos abatement workers, PPE ideally provides a layer of protection to prevent the worker from inhaling or breathing in loose asbestos fibers – or accumulating fibers on their clothes, hair or skin.

Examples of PPE for asbestos abatement workers include:

  • Coveralls
  • Head covers
  • Foot covers or specialized boots
  • Gloves
  • Respiratory equipment

Examples of PPE for Asbestos Abatement

There are a few items of clothing or equipment used to protect asbestos abatement workers from occupational asbestos exposure. The New Zealand government, for instance, mandates workers to wear the following PPE if asbestos might be present:

  • Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) – Can protect against inhaling asbestos
  • Overalls impervious to asbestos dust – Can prevent workers carrying asbestos on their clothes from the work site
  • Non-laced footwear – Can prevent microscopic asbestos fibers from accumulating in shoelaces, where it’s more difficult to wash out

The University of Alabama Birmingham has PPE recommendations for its asbestos workers. According to the college’s website, “Minimal acceptable respirators are half-mask, air-purifying respirators equipped with high-efficiency filters. The respirator/filter combination should be approved for protection against radio nuclides and against dusts, fumes and mists having a time-weighted average acceptable exposure of less than 0.05 mg/m3. Protective clothing should include full-body coveralls, head coverings and shoe coverings. The coveralls should be made of materials which are impervious to asbestos fibers.”

 

EPA Recommendations for PPE for Asbestos Workers

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recommendations for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for asbestos workers. The EPA has the following suggestions for PPE when handling asbestos or working in the vicinity of asbestos:

  • Disposable clothing
  • Coveralls, head cover and foot covers made of a synthetic fabric which does not allow asbestos fibers to pass through
  • Contaminated clothing should not be taken home to avoid creating a possible risk to the worker’s family members.

The EPA says that employers are responsible for providing and ensuring proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including respirators, for their workers.

Respiratory Protection for Asbestos Workers

The EPA also has recommendations for respiratory protection for asbestos workers. Respirators can prevent workers from inhaling airborne fibers. The EPA suggests workers use one of the following options:

  • A half or full facepiece, negative pressure, air-purifying respirator with replaceable high-efficiency fillers
  • A half or full facepiece, powered, air-purifying respirator with replaceable high-efficiency filters (requires a battery-powered pump for breathing and environmental pressure stabilization)

 

Additional Safety Recommendations for Asbestos Abatement Workers

Asbestos is a carcinogen, which means it can cause cancer. Sharp fibers can enter the body and irritate organs, such as the lungs and cell linings near the lungs or abdominal cavity. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma, which is a rare cancer diagnosed in approximately 2,500 people in the U.S. each year.

There’s not “too much” precaution someone can take from being exposed to asbestos. The mineral is so toxic that asbestos abatement workers should go to extreme measures with their Personal Protective Equipment. There should be no exposed skin or hair for workers, meaning they should be wearing full hazard suits.

Protective clothing should include coveralls, head and feet covers, gloves and boots. The worker’s clothes should have no external pockets or velcro, and gloves and books should be made of a thick, durable textile material that does not rip easily. Boots should have plastic air-tight covers.

When the project is finished, workers should throw out all clothing to prevent carrying any fibers from the work site into a vehicle or their home.

    Sources & Author

    1. Personal protective equipment (PPE) when working with asbestos. Worksafe. Retrieved from: https://www.worksafe.govt.nz/topic-and-industry/asbestos/ppe-when-working-with-asbestos/. Accssd: 08/04/2023.
    2. Safe Work Practices. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/asbestos/safe-work-practices. Accessed: 08/04/2023.
    3. Asbestos: Worker and Employer Guide to Hazards and Recommended Controls. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Retrieved from: https://www.hud.gov/sites/documents/IEPWG_ASBESTOS_WORKER.PDF. Accessed: 08/04/2023.
    4. Work Practices for Entering Asbestos-Contaminated Areas. University of Alabama Birmingham. Retrieved from: https://www.uab.edu/ehs/images/docs/asbestos/Recommended_Procedures.pdf. Accessed: 08/04/2023.
    5. The Environmental Impacts of the World Trade Center Attacks. National Resources Defense Council. Retrieved from: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wtc.pdf. Accessed: 11/05/19.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.

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    Sources & Author

Picture of Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is the content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.