When you mention the word ‘asbestos’ many people think of the late night commercials run by law firms regarding mesothelioma. That dreaded disease is typically contracted by a person having breathed a significant amount of asbestos fibers or airborne asbestos dust. Washing a family members’ dirty clothes covered in such fibers or dust can also cause development of this rare form of cancer, lung cancer or other diseases.
Besides all the litigation, which has spawned many headlines over the years, a regulatory environment has developed to address the issue. Anyone who is thinking about construction, particularly renovation or demolition of a structure, whether a home or commercial building, needs to consider whether there is a need to address the abatement of asbestos or not. This is not just an issue for old buildings and homes, but also, to some degree, new construction, as roofing, ceiling tile and flooring may still contain asbestos, even today, depending on the country from which the material is sourced.
Of bigger concern are renovation and demolition projects where the presence of asbestos needs to be determined by the project commences. This is because of the likely potential that asbestos could be disturbed. In the course of demolishing or renovating a home or commercial building, it is wise to first determine whether any ACM are present, what type and how much. There are many competent environmental consultants in Ohio that are licensed to conduct a review and test for the presence of asbestos.[Note: For the sake of space, I’m over-simplifying this, so to any environmental consultant reading this who is cringing about all the nuances I’m glossing over, please feel free to submit an article to me covering the issue in more detail.]
Two factors that can affect what property owners and their contractors must do are the amount of asbestos that is present and the type of asbestos, i.e., whether the ACM is friable or non-friable. When dry, ACM will be categorized as “friable” if it can be easily crumbled, pulverized or otherwise reduced to powder. If the material cannot, then it is considered “non-friable.” Non-friable ACM can be turned into friable under certain conditions such as removing it during demolition or renovation, or by fire. Non-friable ACM are also placed into two categories based upon how resistant the materials are to crumbled or pulverized.
Left undisturbed, asbestos-containing materials (ACM) are not a risk. However, anyone considering the renovation or demolition of a building should first hire an appropriately licensed asbestos contractor who can test for the presence of asbestos in the building, or portion of building, that is being demolished or renovated.
Depending on the type and category of ACM found, if any, and the amount of ACM present, the removal or encapsulation of ACM may be necessary.
Two Ohio agencies/departments are significantly involved in the regulation and oversight of this process: The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Health. Data regarding their respective roles in oversight, regulations and licensure and other useful information can be found on their web sites.
Environmental consultants are worth their weight in gold when addressing what to do and how prior to commencing and during construction or demolition. A good consultant can advise on an approach that minimizes the costs of abatement and help convince the appropriate regulators to permit it. Should the asbestos regulations be ignored and the state regulators get initiate an adversarial process, then retaining specialized environmental legal counsel will also become necessary. .
Property owners considering renovation or demolition would be wise to consult real estate counsel ahead of time. Most real estate attorneys have worked with environmental consultants and attorneys that are environmental law specialists and can advise on who to call and when.