Asbestos describes a natural mineral fiber that can be found in rock and soil. The versatility of the material, including its strength, resistance to heat and insulating qualities, has made it a common component used in a variety of building materials. However, numerous studies have shown that the fiber is highly toxic and is known to cause serious illnesses or death in humans.
Consequently, asbestos has been banned in 50 countries and restricted in many more, but not in the United States. However, asbestos in apartment buildings remains a serious issue.
Location of Asbestos in Apartment Buildings
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most homes constructed before 1980 have asbestos containing materials (ACM) and normal wear and tear will cause these hazardous fibers to be released into the air.
Here are some of the most common places asbestos can be found in apartment buildings:
- Roofing materials
- Exterior siding
- Vinyl floor tile and vinyl floor sheeting
- Insulation products (vermiculite)
- Textured paints and patching compound
- Hot water and steam pipe covered with asbestos coating, blanket, or tape
To protect your safety, and the safety of your tenants, you should understand where asbestos containing materials exist in your buildings and learn how best to manage its removal.
Exposure to Asbestos
The slightest disturbance of asbestos containing materials can cause the fibers to become airborne. Any type of maintenance, remodeling, repair or demolition work that disturbs or damages ACMs can discharge fibers and particles into the air, and once asbestos fibers become airborne they can be inhaled.
Numerous studies have linked asbestos in apartment buildings and other structures to serious health problems, including:
- Lung cancer
- Mesothelioma – Cancer found in the thin lining of the lung, chest, abdomen and heart
- Asbestosis – Non-cancer disease of the lungs
Even short-term exposure to high levels of asbestos can lead to respiratory problems like coughing.
National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP)
Since the early 1980s, the (EPA) has regulated the use of asbestos, and the EPA established the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) to provide oversight for hazardous air pollutants, including the following asbestos-related activities:
- Fabrication of asbestos products
- Asbestos milling
- Spraying asbestos
- Demolition/renovation projects
In California, Proposition 65 and the Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) Code govern the responsibility that property managers have to manage asbestos in apartment buildings.
Renovation/ Demolition Regulations
Here are the five requirements covered in NESHAP that have a direct impact on apartment buildings:
- Inspection – Property managers must have the property inspected by a certified asbestos inspector to determine the presence of ACM prior to undertaking renovation or demolition.
- Notification – You or the contractor must provide to the State/Local Pollution Control Agency and the EPA Regional Office a written 10-day notice regarding the intent to renovate or demolish.
- Removal of ACM – When removing ACM the contractor must wet down the material when disjoining or cutting. The contractor must also exercise care when working with ACM and not drop or slide the material across surfaces which can cause contamination.
- Training for ACM Removal – The regulations require that a person trained in NESHAP, and who has successfully completed EPA accredited training, be present onsite during the ACM removal process.
- Asbestos Waste Disposal – Regulations cover the leakage of ACM into outside air during the removal process, the use of waste containers and labeling, and transportation to an approved hazardous waste disposal site.
As long as you do not have plans to do any renovation or demolition, the law does not require the removal of ACM. However, be aware that disturbing the material may cause it to exceed the threshold amount. Ultimately, the property manager has the legal responsibility to ensure that staff and contractors follow the laws pertaining to asbestos in apartment buildings.
Download a free copy of our Asbestos, Lead Paint & Mold eBook to learn how to mitigate the liability risks associated with common environmental threats found in residential properties.