Introduction To The Asbestos Removal or Abatement Process

If you have decided to remove asbestos-containing material (ACM) from your home, you have two options.  You may do the work yourself with the help of family members who are working as volunteers, or you may hire a certified asbestos abatement contractor. It is illegal to hire uncertified workers for asbestos abatement. Also, keep in mind that the federal government requires that certified contractors must be hired for any residence of more than four units and any commercial or public building.

If you are considering doing your own asbestos removal work, you should thoroughly acquaint yourself with the requirements for safe handling of the ACM in question. You may need a permit for transport and disposal of the materials; these permit requirements usually depend on the volume and type of asbestos waste, and they vary by locality.

The three basic rules for asbestos removal are worker protection, wetting of asbestos fibers, and proper containment (UDAQ, 2007).

Worker protection requires some specialized gear. You will need a respirator with HEPA filter, properly fitted; disposable coveralls with built-in booties, rubber boots and rubber gloves; and eye protection with non-fogging goggles.

Keeping the asbestos fibers wet prevents airborne dust and is thus critical to safe management. You will need a tank sprayer. Liquid dishwashing detergent mixed with water can serve as a wetting agent.

For containment and disposal, polyethylene plastic sheeting and disposal bags will adequately contain fibers if handled appropriately.

As the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency [ORCAA] reminds the homeowner, the work will be both physically demanding and potentially dangerous. It can be very physically taxing to work in a respirator, wearing protective clothing which may be bulky and hot, with eye protection which may limit your field of view. In addition, because of the need to keep asbestos fibers wet, humid conditions and possible electrical hazards are the rule. The ORCAA states outright: "…common sense dictates that unique and particularly challenging projects should not be undertaken by the homeowner" (ORCAA, 2007).

If you decide to hire an asbestos abatement company, check to make sure your contractor is licensed by your state for asbestos removal. Contractors are required to follow U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) regulations. OSHA regulations will differ depending on the class of ACM being removed (Cooper, 2006, p. 19).

Typically, contractors will set up a reasonably air-tight containment area to which they can attach a large HEPA vacuum system, to keep asbestos contamination out of the rest of the building. They will set up a multi-chamber entry into the worksite, sometimes with showers included, to serve as a kind of air-lock and minimize the spread of fibers. If appropriate, they will wet down the work area and then spray an encapsulant before beginning work and again when they are finished. They will also be able to test air quality during the procedure and after the abatement is complete.

In removing asbestos, safe handling is crucial. If you are not completely confident in your ability to do the job yourself, it makes good sense to hire a professional.

'Introduction To The Asbestos Removal or Abatement Process' Sources:

  • Cooper, J.S. (2006). Is the storm over? OSHA asbestos regulations for demolition and renovation work. Construction Accounting and Taxation, 16, 18-22. 
  • Olympic Region Clear Air Agency [ORCAA]. (2007). Asbestos removal procedures for homeowners. Retrieved July 9, 2007 from http://www.orcaa.org/pdf/AsbestosVinyl.pdf
  • Utah Division of Air Quality [UDAQ]. (2007). Asbestos removal procedures for homeowners. Retrieved July 9, 2007 from http://www.airquality.utah.gov/HAPs/ASBESTOS/info/asbstrem.htm