Benton Clean Air Agency

Asbestos Questions

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that has been used in more than 3,000 different construction materials and manufactured products. It is commonly found in heating system insulation, decorative spray-on ceiling treatments, vinyl flooring, cement shake siding and a variety of additional materials. Some asbestos-containing materials were still being installed into the late 1980s.

All types of asbestos tend to break into very tiny fibers. These individual fibers are so small that many must be identified using a microscope. In fact, some individual fibers may be up to 700 times smaller than a human hair. Because asbestos fibers are so small, once released into the air, they may stay suspended there for hours or even days.

Asbestos fibers are also virtually indestructible. They are resistant to chemicals and heat, and they are very stable in the environment. They do not evaporate into air or dissolve in water, and they are not broken down over time. Asbestos is probably the best insulator known to man.

Usually asbestos is mixed with other materials to actually form the products. Floor tiles, for example, may contain only a small percentage of asbestos.The asbestos content of different materials varies according to the product and how it is used. Among those materials with higher concentrations of asbestos are insulation products on heating Systems and the backing on sheet vinyl flooring. However, an uncontrolled disturbance of any asbestos-containing material in any concentration may be dangerous to your health!

Why is Asbestos a problem?

Breathing asbestos fibers can be dangerous. When disturbed, asbestos breaks down into fibers up to 1,200 times thinner than a human hair. When inhaled, they become trapped in lung tissues. Medical research tells us that up to 30 years after inhalation, asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer or mesothelioma, a related terminal cancer of the tissue lining the chest cavity.

Because asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral and has been so widely used in manufactured products, including automobile brake linings, it can be found almost everywhere. Trace amounts are in the air we breathe every day. Most of us have asbestos fibers in our lungs.

On the other hand, there’s no known safe level of asbestos exposure. That’s why medical, environmental health and regulatory organizations stress the need to protect health by minimizing exposure to airborne asbestos fibers accumulate at elevated levels. Elevated levels result from uncontrolled disturbances and removals of asbestos-containing materials.

Asbestos is not always an immediate hazard. In fact, if asbestos can be maintained in good condition, it is recommended that it be left alone and periodic surveillance performed to monitor it’s condition. It’s only when asbestos containing materials are disturbed or the materials become damaged that it becomes a hazard. When the materials become damaged, the fibers separate and may then become airborne. In the asbestos industry, the term ‘friable’ is used to describe asbestos that can be reduced to dust by hand pressure. ‘Non-friable’ means asbestos that is too hard to be reduce to dust by hand. Non-friable materials, such as transite siding and floor tiles are not regulated provided it does not become friable. Machine grinding, sanding and dry-buffing are ways of causing non-friable materials to become friable.

Asbestos has been identified at my home or business. What are the requirements for removal?

If you decide to have asbestos removed, BCAA strongly encourages you to use a state-certified asbestos abatement contractor. These experts are trained to employ removal techniques that ensure asbestos is effectively and safely removed. They also perform air monitoring to ensure that the air at your business meets acceptable standards after the project is completed. Be aware that during asbestos removal, that there may be subtantial disruption to your business operation due to the potential hazards of exposing your employees and the public to asbestos.

Bonded, insured asbestos abatement contractors are in the yellow pages of your telephone directory under “Asbestos”. Get several bids and check references before making a selection. The contractors should also be able to tell you what kind of disruption to expect.

The asbestos contractor should be aware of the reporting requirements in Benton County. A “Notification of Intent to Remove Asbestos” form, which can be downloaded (PDF or DOC) is required for all asbestos project in Benton County. Once approved, the form allows you to legally remove asbestos and dispose of it at specified asbestos disposal sites. Failure by the contractor to file this form may result in enforcement action being taken against the contractor and/or the business owner.

I am worried there might be asbestos in my home? How can I tell?

Areas to consider looking when identifying asbestos in your home.

Asbestos is only a concern if it is disturbed-that’s when fibers are released into the air. This could occur during a remodel or repair project. The only way to know for sure is to have the material tested. If you are planning a renovation, and doing the work yourself, you may perform your own survey of the structure to determine if it may have suspect asbestos-containing materials.

You should have suspect materials tested for asbestos prior to renovation by submitting a sample for lab analysis. (vermiculite insulation is an exception). Labs are listed in the yellow pages under “Asbestos-Consulting and Testing.” Ask a laboratory technician to instruct you how to properly obtain a sample. Please contact us for further information, or click here.

I meet the criteria of an Owner-Occupied, Single-Family Residence. Prior to my renovation/demolition, do I need a certified AHERA building inspector to inspect the structure?

For demolition, yes. For renovation, no-however, there are specific work practices and disposal requirements you must comply with. Contact Benton Clean Air for further information. Important: Please note that if anyone other than the homeowner will be doing renovation work, the survey must be performed by a certified AHERA building inspector.

How do I determine if a material contains asbestos?

A: You must have it tested by a laboratory. You can send your sample to an accredited lab, with prices varying between $6 – $25, depending upon the turnaround time.

Asbestos was found in my home that I plan to have demolished, can I remove the asbestos myself?

Yes, however, there are specific work practices and disposal requirements. Please contact Benton Clean Air for further information.

I have vermiculite insulation in my attic. Should I remove it?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends it be left alone. Avoid using your attic for occupancy and storage. If you must use your attic, limit the trips to it. If you are planning a remodel, never attempt to remove asbestos vermiculite insulation yourself. For more information, visit EPA’s website on asbestos.

What is an asbestos project?

It is any activity involving the abatement, renovation, demolition, removal, salvage, clean-up, or disposal of asbestos-containing material (ACM) or any other action or inaction that disturbs or is likely to disturb any ACM. It includes the removal and disposal of ACM or asbestos-containing waste material. It does not include the application of duct tape, rewettable glass cloth, canvas, cement, paint, or other non-asbestos materials to seal or fill exposed areas where asbestos fibers may be released nor does it include nonfriable asbestos containing roofing material that will not be rendered friable.

Who is responsible to have the asbestos survey done?

Any person causing or allowing renovation or demolition e.g. property owners/managers, lessors, tenants, contractors, workers, and other involved parties

Do I still need a survey if the building I am working on is only a few years old?

Yes. There is no cut-off date when it is safe to assume that asbestos is not present in building materials. If your building was certified to be built asbestos-free, then this certification may be used as supporting documentation by the AHERA building inspector performing the survey. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 9 thousand metric tons of asbestos were used in roofing products in the U.S. as recent as the year 2000.

Can I, the contractor, take samples of materials to a laboratory to determine asbestos content?

Only if you are also an AHERA certified asbestos inspector.

Can I treat materials as asbestos-containing, instead of paying to get a survey?

If an asbestos survey is not conducted, building materials that will or may be disturbed must be assumed to contain asbestos. Handling asbestos-containing material must be performed by properly trained and certified asbestos workers and supervised by a Washington State certified asbestos supervisor.

In addition to the training and certification requirements, people handling asbestos would be subject to other regulatory requirements, such as hazard communication, medical exams, and other worker protection issues. Check with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries for these additional requirements. Although you can assume that materials contain asbestos and follow all asbestos-related requirements, you can never assume building materials do not contain asbestos.