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March 15, 2017

Picture this: It’s an exciting day. After six months of working with your new tenant, the architect and general contractor to tighten up the budget and schedule, your project has finally started. As the building owner, you are confident that the updated floor plan will provide a more productive work environment for your tenant’s employees, and you feel comfortable that your team will complete the project on time and within budget. That’s good because there are consequential damages in the lease agreement with the new tenant, if your team doesn’t meet the schedule.

On day two of demolition, the general contractor’s superintendent knocks on your door. When you look up, you immediately know there is a problem by the look on his face. He explains that the demolition contactor was taking out the heating vents and discovered a material that looked like asbestos. They stopped all work on the floor until an environmental consulting company could test the materials.

The superintendent goes on to explain that he had a licensed asbestos inspector rush the samples, and they have verified that it is, in fact, asbestos. The heating units cannot be safely removed until they abate the materials. 

You discuss the schedule implications. There is a mandatory notification process of 10 business days before abatement can begin, and it will take an additional week to remove the identified asbestos before reopening the floor for continued demolition.

Unbelievable. A three-week delay. There is no way for the general contractor to complete the renovation in the time specified in the lease agreement. 

This situation is common, where it’s not until work begins and materials are uncovered – and potentially disturbed – that an environmental company is called in to help. Was this situation preventable? Oftentimes, it is.

Recognizing you may have an environmental issue

Asbestos fibers are used for their strength and as a heat and sound insulator. They are five microns in length and have no scent, so they can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Unfortunately, the presence of asbestos-containing materials is more prevalent than you think. Generally, if you have a building that was constructed before 1985, you could have Asbestos Containing Building Materials (ACBM) - but that’s not always the case. Asbestos containing floor tiles and construction adhesives can be found in new buildings.

ACBMs are also not limited to certain types of buildings. We’re called in to help with issues on projects of all sizes, in hospitals, education buildings, theaters, apartments – any commercial or industrial facility. They go by many names: Chrysotile, Amosite, Crocidolite, Tremolite, Anthophyllite and Actinolite.

Asbestos is a proven carcinogen and must be handled properly by licensed and trained personnel. Disturbance of any material containing asbestos (friable and non-friable) is considered an inhalation hazard. How the material is contained and discarded will vary depending on how it is classified.

Suspect asbestos containing materials can include the following:

01. Flooring

While asbestos is commonly associated with nine-inch tiles, it can be found in any size tile, sheet good / linoleum and terrazzo, and it can be present in any color of flooring adhesives. Asbestos can even be present in new flooring.

02. Ceilings

Any size ceiling tile or glue pucks associated with the ceiling tiles may contain asbestos.

03. Thermal System Insulations

This can include thermal piping insulations, boiler insulations, tank insulations and HVAC duct system insulations.

04. Fireproofing

This can be both spray-on or troweled located on structural steel or as a decorative application.

05. Transite Panels / Asbestos Cement Board or Pipe

Transite or asbestos cement board can be made into many different building applications and are often missed on environmental building inspections. These non-friable building materials can be found in lab hood applications, cooling towers, exhaust and water pipe applications and soffits, just to name a few.

06. Galbestos Panels

These are usually found in industrial applications where corrugated steel panels are coated from the factory with an asbestos containing paint. Most often, we find this construction on penthouses on top of manufacturing facilities.

07. Miscellaneous gaskets and wire insulations

Automotive gaskets, gate valve and boiler system gaskets can have asbestos containing materials in them. Older building wire insulations can be insulated with asbestos.

08. Roofing

Roofing materials can have both asbestos paper insulations and asbestos containing mastics.

09. Building caulks and adhesives

Window caulk and glazing can be suspect asbestos containing materials.

The worst consequence of unplanned environmental work is the exposure to the occupants of your facility and your business if any of these materials are disturbed. For your project, dealing with unforeseen issues means delays and unexpected costs.

Across the United States only licensed asbestos building inspectors can survey a building for Asbestos Containing Building Materials (ACBM). This licensing is overseen by the individual states. For example, in Illinois,  asbestos inspections can be performed by an Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Licensed Building Inspector prior to a demolition or renovation process. The project may involve a small scale or large scale multi-phase abatement operation prior to the demolition or renovation process. 

Most asbestos abatement projects warrant a 10-working day permit process prior to abatement activities. So when this type of work is unplanned, work can stop for two weeks to acquire the permit, on top of the additional time required for the abatement process.

From emergency response to part of the project plan

Consider the situation at the beginning of this article, and change the beginning of the story. The new tenant, the building owner, the general contractor and the architect are in the initial planning meeting for the project. Someone asks, “Has anyone performed an Asbestos Building Inspection for this area?”

This simple question would have started a chain of events that could have eliminated any delays in the project schedule. The licensed building inspector would have identified the ACBM associated with the heating vents, submitted the notification for abatement and completed the abatement before the demolition contractor arrived on site. The outcome is quite different.

The K-12 school system is one institution that understands the risks to building occupants and to their projects. With most of their work taking place during the summer break, they can’t afford schedule delays. For maintenance work that takes place during the year, they can’t afford to shut down the classrooms.

By regulation, K-12 schools are required to have management plans in place that identify all known or presumed ACBMs within the facility. These materials are initially identified and inspected every six months. Construction partners know exactly what to anticipate and what work will be required upfront. This is a best practice.

When it doesn’t go as planned

There will be times when one scope unexpectedly leads to another. Surprises happen. It’s important to work with a construction manager who has been educated and trained on asbestos and abatement processes so they recognize these materials when they come across them and respond quickly and appropriately. At Pepper, this training is required.

It’s also important to work with an environmental company that understands your situation. For us, having knowledge of the construction process helps us integrate the environmental process into the overall project rather than looking at the project through the lens of just our scope. We will partner with the contractor to minimize the risks and impacts on both your organization and your project.

There are many agencies and regulations to reference, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), to name a few.

Or, if you have questions about your facility, contact us. We’ll come take a look.

About the Authors

Mike Grant

Mike GrantVice President, Pepper Environmental Technologies

As the lead manager for Pepper Environmental Technologies, Mike brings to the team his 20 years of experience and expertise with a variety of environmental technologies. Mike provides the team with environmental consultation and conducts OSHA compliance training that includes confined space hazards, asbestos awareness, and respiratory projection programs.

Peggy James

Margaret (Peggy) James, MBA, PMPSenior Project Manager, Illinois

Peggy has worked in environmental technologies for 20 years. Peggy specializes in large project financial and performance management with a strong emphasis on financials, data collection and reporting. Additionally, she performs assessments to determine if a property is an environmental risk, as well as the degree of services required. Assessments and remediation services include asbestos, lead-based paint, underground storage tank, soil contamination, building decommissioning and building demolition. 

Peggy holds a Master in Business Administration from Kaplan University and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from Saint Joseph’s College. Her certifications include: IDEM – Asbestos Project Supervisor/Asbestos Building Inspector;  IDPH – Asbestos Professional/Project Manager, Asbestos Building Inspector; IDPH – Lead Building Inspector; OSHA 40-hour HAZWOPER Certification; OSHA 30-Hour Training; OSHA 8-hour HAZWOPER Supervisor Training; OSHA 8-hour HAZWOPER Refresher Training; Wetland Delineator Certification Program; First Aid/CPR Training; Project Management Professional (PMP); Golden Key International Honour Society and Project Management Institute (PMI), Chicagoland Chapter.