Asbestos Spills: What You Should Know

Replacing Moldy Drywall

Asbestos spills can affect everyone involved in a building project, including homeowners, business owners, building owners, and contractors. Of primary concern is the threat to human health caused by the release of asbestos fibers into the air. Once these fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can become lodged inside the lungs or abdominal cavity, where they can cause tissue damage. Asbestos exposure has been linked to mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and other chronic and/or fatal diseases.

But there are also significant secondary impacts involving time and money. For example, an asbestos spill can cause a commercial building to become uninhabitable for an extended period of time. Or homeowners can be faced with mounting cleanup costs in addition to the loss of personal and household items. Projects coming to an abrupt halt, families facing health concerns and financial strain, and businesses disrupted for prolonged periods – any way you look at it, asbestos spills are a big deal.

What is an asbestos spill?

According to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission’s Regulation 8, II.B.21, an “asbestos spill means any release of asbestos fibers due to a breach of the containment area on an abatement project or due to any cause other than asbestos abatement.”

A spill is classified as minor or major relative to measuring below or above “trigger” levels. These are defined areas of asbestos contamination. Trigger levels for spills involving commercial buildings are 260 linear feet/160 square feet or roughly the size of a 55-gallon drum. Trigger levels for residential dwelling spills are 55 linear feet/32 square feet or roughly the size of a sheet of drywall.

How do asbestos spills occur?

Specific scenarios are endless. Perhaps a homeowner’s vintage home experiences a second-floor plumbing leak that causes ceiling damage on the first floor. If the ceiling contains ACM (asbestos-containing material), this would be considered a spill. Or a professional contractor might notice a break in the required containment area of a renovation project involving ACM. Depending on the size of the spill, either of these cases could be classified as a minor or major spill.

Finally, a not-so-professional contractor could disturb ACM in the course of work, unaware that this has placed workers, clients, and others at risk. Hopefully, it won’t be long before questionable standards raise concerns, and a qualified professional is brought in to assess the situation.

Can asbestos spills be avoided?

Although the risk of spills can be minimized, not all spills can be avoided. The unexpected plumbing leak and the accidental break in an asbestos containment area are good examples of this. In the case of the homeowner’s plumbing issue, the next step would be to contact a qualified and licensed asbestos professional to determine if ACM is present. If ACM is present, the asbestos professional will determine the scope of the spill and advise a course of containment, cleanup, and safe repair according to federal, state, and local regulations. If no ACM is present, the homeowner can begin a DIY project or hire a qualified contractor to make the repair.

If a contractor or business owner suspects a spill, work must come to a stop until an asbestos professional can determine if this is, in fact, an asbestos spill. If the area is clear of ACM, work continues. But in the case of a spill, work cannot resume until cleanup has been completed. Since business as usual is disrupted, this cost – in addition to the cost of cleanup – can add up quickly. An experienced asbestos professional can work quickly, efficiently, and safely to get the project moving again.

If you have questions or need help with an asbestos spill, contact Paragon Environmental today. Our experienced team of trained and certified professionals

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