Managing Asbestos in Commercial Buildings
Asbestos is a common environmental hazard in commercial buildings, especially those built before 1980. Once airborne, asbestos fibers become a serious health risk for building occupants, causing severe pulmonary illness if inhaled —such as the deadly cancer mesothelioma.
If you lease, maintain, or own a commercial building, it’s important to know if and where asbestos is present and how to prevent asbestos from contaminating the building environment.
Responsibilities and Regulations for Asbestos in Commercial Buildings
If you suspect asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in your building, it’s crucial to be familiar with the building regulations regarding their safe management and to understand exactly who is responsible for meeting those regulations.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lays out regulations in the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), which are designed to protect the wider environment from asbestos contamination. NESHAP sets the standards for safe asbestos removal and containment during building renovations and demolitions, as well as for communication guidelines — detailing how to notify state agencies whenever conducting such work.
The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) builds on NESHAP to protect workers and contractors from asbestos exposure. OSHA states that for buildings constructed in 1980 or earlier, asbestos is presumed to exist within certain common building materials unless proven otherwise through certified inspection. This is important for maintaining a building, as even minor repairs could expose occupants to airborne asbestos if proper care isn’t taken.
It’s also important to know who is responsible for meeting NESHAP and OSHA standards. Property owners bear responsibility for the safety of their buildings’ occupants, and asbestos exposure must be high on their list of hazards to avoid. However, leases and maintenance contracts may reassign responsibility.
With how common asbestos is, building occupants need quick and reliable ways to detect and remove the toxic substance to ensure safety. Make sure you know who is responsible for keeping asbestos out of the work environment, to protect yourself and others.
Asbestos Removal and Containment
While you never want asbestos in your building, the good news is that not all ACMs pose an immediate threat to a building’s occupants. Certain ACMs like floor tiles keep their asbestos fully enclosed in a binder and unable to enter the environment so long as the tiles are undamaged and in good condition.
The danger comes when the asbestos fibers are friable, or easily disturbed and made airborne. When otherwise harmless ACMs like tiles are worn or damaged, the asbestos fibers become exposed and are easily brushed against and freed. Even worse, some ACMs — like spray insulation or acoustic ceiling finishes — never fully contain their asbestos content and are so friable that they contaminate the air simply by deteriorating with age.
When found in a building, friable asbestos must be managed either by capturing the dangerous materials to prevent the asbestos from spreading or by removing the hazard altogether. In either case, under NESHAP guidelines, this work must be done by certified asbestos abatement professionals in order to meet specific building requirements for environmental safety.
The EPA also publishes resources on developing an operations and maintenance program for controlling asbestos exposure in your building.
Common Places to Find Asbestos in Commercial Buildings
Asbestos can be found in almost all parts of a commercial building. Common locations include:
- Boilers: Asbestos is often an integral material in boilers, used in gaskets, sealants, and especially block insulation around the boiler and pipes. As these materials are repeatedly exposed to high heat, the binder materials containing the asbestos gradually deteriorate, creating an extreme exposure hazard.
- Insulation: Particularly dangerous is loose-fill insulation, sprayed into walls or above ceilings. Most insulation used to contain asbestos, including pipe wrap and acoustic tile ceilings.
- Fireproofing: Spray-on fireproofing, firebricks, and ceramics that contain asbestos are very common.
- Flooring adhesives and tiles: Asbestos was frequently added to ceramic and vinyl flooring, as well as flooring adhesives.
- Drywall and paint: The strength and fire resistance of asbestos made it a popular material for walls — added to sheetrock, joint compound, plasters, and paints.
- Electrical wiring and utility boxes: Asbestos ribbon was commonly used to wrap electrical cabling. Asbestos paper is also very common around old breakers and fuse boxes.
- Pipes and plumbing: Ceramic pipes containing asbestos are common for building water mains as well as drainpipes.
- Roofing and siding: Asbestos was even used on building exteriors — incorporated into cement sidings and roof tiles.
Steps for Controlling Asbestos in Your Building
If you discover asbestos in your building, take the proper steps to minimize risks, communicate information, and keep everything properly contained.
- Begin by determining who is responsible for asbestos management for the building.
- Hire a certified asbestos abatement service to inspect your property and investigate where all of the asbestos is located.
- Ensure that all ACMs are either safely contained or removed.
- Inform the building occupants of the presence of asbestos and any risks of exposure.
- Keep the ACMs maintained in good condition, have them encapsulated, or have them removed by a certified abatement service.
Asbestos is a dangerous health risk, especially in older commercial buildings. Asbestos Project Management is an asbestos removal company for residential and commercial properties that have helped keep people safe since 1984.
If you suspect your building has asbestos or are unsure of action plans and responsibilities, contact us today. Keep the people inside your buildings safe, and the asbestos under control.Back To Blog