Washington D.C. (DC) Asbestos Removal & Abatement Resources:

In Washington, D.C., the responsibility of enforcing regulations regarding the removal or containment of asbestos containing material lies with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA has taken steps to protect workers and the public from the dangers associated with asbestos exposure (1).

Asbestos Health Concerns

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that can be reduced to fibers. This substance is ideal for creating insulating, fireproofing and soundproofing materials, and was used widely for these purposes from the 1900s until the mid-seventies. In the seventies it was definitively determined that airborne asbestos fibers cause severe human illnesses including specific types of caner. At this time, the federal government began instituting and enforcing regulations for the distribution, handling and disposal of asbestos products.

Asbestos fibers, when released into the air, are easily inhaled or ingested. When the fibers find their way into the body, they become trapped in the organ linings, most often that of the lungs. The body responds to the fibers by releasing acids which, due to the chemically resistant nature of asbestos, do not affect the fibers but cause scarring to the surrounding tissues. Over time, the scarring can spread to such an extent that it reduces the organ’s ability to function properly. Mesothelioma and lung cancer are also possible outcomes of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos is most often found in relation to steam pipes, boilers and furnace ducts. These items are insulated with asbestos blanket or asbestos tape materials. These materials are at the highest risk for friability if they are damaged, repaired, or removed improperly. Friable asbestos is asbestos that is likely to release fibers into the air when disturbed, and is the most dangerous form of asbestos (2).

Asbestos is also found in many other building materials. Among them are floor tiles, roofing fabric and shingles, spray on soundproofing, ceiling texture, fireproofing, and asbestos cement. These materials may be or become friable if disturbed. Even if the material is non-friable, the material should never be cut, sanded, abraded or drilled. These types of actions can make even non-friable asbestos materials dangerous and friable.

In the case of Washington, D.C., the insulation around water pipes beneath Capitol Hill represents a significant health hazard to the maintenance workers that must work on the area. Abatement of the asbestos in this area will be extremely dangerous and costly.

Maintenance workers who have worked on the HVAC and water lines beneath the buildings of Capitol Hill have been exposed to enormous levels of asbestos fibers. This recent finding may not have ramifications for many years, as the latency period for asbestos related illnesses is long, usually between 20 and 30 years. Recent medical evaluations have determined that even those who have yet to exhibit symptoms have experienced significant lung damage (1).

Asbestos Abatement Guidelines

Asbestos is one of the most heavily regulated substances in the United States. In Washington, D.C., Federal law mandates that only certified and trained workers handle asbestos containing material. If asbestos is suspected in a building, an inspection is required before any renovation or demolition activities can begin. Once it has been determined that asbestos is present, a determination regarding the best method of abatement can occur. If the building is not scheduled to undergo demolition, encapsulation or enclosure may be a preferable option to removal.

Encapsulation is a process through which a latex-like substance is applied to the surface of the asbestos containing material. This substance prevents the ACM from becoming disturbed and releasing fibers into the air. Enclosure is an action in which the area that contains the asbestos is completely closed off from the rest of the building with an airtight seal to prevent deteriorating materials from being released into the general air supply. Both of these options are less costly than full removal; however, if a building is slated for demolition, removal is the only option and the site must be completely cleared of asbestos before any demolition can occur.

The removal process must be performed by certified workers. In order to obtain a certification, workers must complete a training course that has been accredited by the state or federal government. Before any abatement action occurs, the work area most be closed off and a decontamination area must be set up. Once the areas have been cleared by an inspector, the abatement action can begin. Workers must enter the work area and wet down the asbestos material before it is disturbed, bagged and removed from the work area.

After all asbestos materials have been properly bagged, labeled and removed from the area, and the area has been thoroughly scraped free of all material, another inspection with air sampling will occur before the decontamination area can be taken down. All asbestos materials must be disposed of in an approved landfill site.

'Washington D.C. (DC) Asbestos Removal & Abatement Resources' Sources:

  • Clark, Louis. "Abuse Beneath the U.S. Capitol?" Government Accountability Project. 7 Feb 07. 7 Feb 08.
  • "An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality" United States Environmental Protection Agency. 14 Nov 07. 7 Feb 08. http://www.epa.gov/iaq/asbestos.html#Health%20Effects