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Asbestos: risks, control measures.

Last week REW looked at how the real estate industry has brought in consultants to help manage asbestos in buildings and the licensing requirements for asbestos workers. Now, REW reviews health risks, operation and maintenance procedures to minimize health and legal risks and procedures for hiring asbestos consultants and contractors.

What is Dangerous?

Asbestos is a natural mineral and is an extraordinary resilient, malleable insulator and strengthener, said Steven Matthews of the City's Health Dept.

Two hundred tons was mined in Italy in 1868, but it is unclear what was done with the material. Beginning around the turn of the century, however, it became a popular building material. "The critical date should be when it was last used [in a building] and not when it was first used," warned John Welch, president of the Safe Buildings Alliance, which acts as an information source on asbestos.

The predominant use in construction came after World War 11, Welch said.

Asbestos was used widely in construction material around pipes, boilers, heat insulators, fireproofing, acoustical ceiling tiles, wallboard, decorative paint, vinyl floor tiles, spackling or tape, caulking around windows, in mortar between bricks, cooling towers, roofing materials, wiring, and fuse boxes.

In New York City, a law required it to be sprayed on structural steel as an insulator and also prevented the steel from buckling.

"It's tensile strength is equal to steel, said John J. Leitner, vice president of Ambient Labs of New York City and Chicago which are environmental consultants with an on-site testing lab.

In 1971, New York City became the first city to outlaw asbestos as a spray-on construction material. By the late Seventies, most asbestos products were off the market after lawsuits were filed against manufacturers. The last group of material on the market was vinyl asbestos floor tiles which were manufactured until 1985, said Welch.

There are six types of asbestos, with five of them--known as amphiboles---that are more likely to attach themselves to lung tissue. The most common form of asbestos used commercially, chrysotile, is generally considered to be less dangerous than the amphiboles. Matthews warned that tests don't always distinguish between the two types.

"It is also impossible for a layperson and for all but the most skilled scientists and technicians to identify items that are asbestos," Matthews noted. "Just because one sees material fraying around a pipe or a damaged floor tile you shouldn't just assume it's asbestos.

Leitner explained that like an experienced automechanic who can identify by ear what is wrong with a car, his technicians are used to seeing the product in the field and then having lab tests to verify their conjecture. Even so, he said, all samples must be lab tested to verify it is or is not asbestos. "All samples are considered asbestos unless proven otherwise," he noted.

The extent of the danger and the amount of exposure is also a very open question, said Matthews. The majority of the reliable medical literature, he says, shows the most significant risk is to those who have prolonged, intensive, occupational exposure: asbestos miners, people who make the building products that contain asbestos or workers who were involved in the application of the products.

"Not everyone contracts these diseases," Matthews added. "It is not as universal as lung cancer."

The Health Dept.'s advice, Matthews said, is to expect asbestos in buildings and not to be overly concerned about the risks, especially if the building is well maintained and surfaces are undamaged.

Asbestos poses a potential health problem when it is friable--exposed to the air in a deteriorating, crumbling state.

Hiring Help

The first step in cheeking if a building has a problem is to conduct a survey using a reliable consultant. John Henningson, president of Kaselaan & D'Angelo which are environmental engineers and consultants, said a survey should be conducted, "Otherwise the owner will have to deal with situations where the asbestos becomes exposed and becomes critical to deal with rather than of a planned nature," he explained.

When an owner interviews a contractor or inspection firm they should ask certain questions, advised attorney C. Jaye Berger: How long have you been in business? What's the largest job you have done? Have you been involved in litigation? Have you been certified by any agencies? How many people do you employ and how many on a regular basis?

"You can check out if there are complaints against the companies and call the people who they have worked for," Berger recommended. Most owners who have had problems, Berger believes, have not done any checking. "They get lazy. If it seems like a nice guy, then they might not bother."

One industry source said it is very common for asbestos contractors to hire from a pool of people from the Greenpoint area of Brooklyn, many of whom hold licenses.

But at least one job was reported where none of the nearly 80 workers was certified--they were told it was legal as long as the contractor held a license. "That is a violation of the law," noted William Loch, director of training for Warren & Panzer Engineers, who conducts asbestos courses for the New York University School of Continuing Education.

With regard to a past survey and choosing a new consulting firm, Loch said, "You can't guarantee what was done was done right, but you want a general engineering, architectural, or construction background and then experience dealing with asbestos specifically." He explained.

"Part of the problem with the schools is that a lot of these guys sat through a three-day course and were sent out without other support," Loch noted. "That is not appropriate."

Remove, Encapsulate or Enclose?

Where asbestos is intact, on the issue of removal vs. encapsulation, many people believe it should be encapsulated rather than removed, attorney Berger said.

"If not friable, then it's better left alone," agreed Peter L. DiCapua, president of the Building Owners and Managers Association and senior vice president of Atco Properties & Management. "That is where the hysteria of past practice has created the problem. The first legislation said to take it out and you caused more problems."

Anytime you touch asbestos and disturb it with a renovation or demolition it has to be removed, encapsulated or enclosed said Leitner. "The law says |abatement,' and you have to set up containment with an enclosure and engineering controls and an air monitor, and use licensed workers. No matter which option you choose, your fixed costs are essentially the same."

The actual construction process has to be done by licensed workers with personal protective equipment and respiratory protection.

With removal, owners spend the time and labor to take out the asbestos and there are costs to remove and dispose of it but they never have it again, noted Leitner. But by law, at the end of the job, it also must be encapsulated with a spray-on latex coating so there are no leftover fibers.

Encapsulation is done with a latex based paint that is sprayed-on as a coating. "It is faster but speeds up delamination over time and the asbestos can peel off," warned Leitner. "You don't spend the labor to remove it but the downside is that it is still there," he said.

With enclosure, the asbestos remains in the buildings and there are construction costs, as well. "If you enclose it you normally don't encapsulate it first," Leitner added.

DiCapua advises to observe it, inspect it, and if it does become friable, encapsulate it, enclose it or remove it. "A lot of prudent owners and mangers have an asbestos abatement program," he noted.

As part of the conversion to cooperative and condominium status, sponsors had to inspect and disclose the presence of asbestos, said attorney Joseph J. Giamboi of Stroock Stroock & Lavan. "Then it became a matter of negotiation between the corporation and sponsor," he said.

The board of a residential building should make the determination if non-friable asbestos should be left in place and advise people where it is. "In areas that are accessible to tenants or children, they might decide to cover it or remove it. Remove it is not necessarily the thing to do," Giamboi noted.

In a commercial building, if it becomes accessible during the course of a renovation then Giamboi says to disclose it and address it. There, you primarily have to be concerned about the maintenance people.

Giamboi cautioned that anyone who may have access to intact asbestos should be advised of the location, such as in a basement near a tenant-used laundry room. "If the pipes are accessible, you might want to put a sign on it, just to let people know these pipes are insulated with asbestos containing material.

If a survey was conducted in the past, but there was never any abatement, there could be change in the condition of the material. "Do a follow-up inspection," Henningson advised. "You are looking to make sure the base line condition hasn't changed."

If asbestos is still present in a large residential or commercial space, Giamboi says the owner should know where it is, and its condition.

If it is in good condition, then it should be examined on a regular basis. The consultants recommending six-month intervals as is advised for schools under Federal laws. Under State rules, this has to be done by a trained person.

Henningson said the owner, in conjunction with the consulting company, should develop an operation and maintenance (O&M) plan based on the presence of the asbestos. This should include what and how operations should be done around asbestos and to prevent it from being spread.

"As a minimum," Henningson advised, "the maintenance people should be given an awareness training so they are aware of the kinds of things people can undertake that would result in asbestos exposure." These include work such as laying cables that might disturb already enclosed or encapsulated areas or replacing tiles or pipes. The workers might also want to obtain an operations and maintenance license, designed for such personnel.

An owner or board would want to ensure their building personnel is cognizant that any sudden changes in the material--such as a ladder ripping asbestos on a pipe or dripping water that causes the crumbling of the material--should be brought to their attention.

"You want people who will ask first," said Henningson. "Not, |Gee I cut a pipe. I wonder if it's asbestos and what to do?' If they know what to do and have an accident and hit the pipe with a ladder, it could be a matter of properly wrapping it with duct tape."

If the pipe is ripped and ignored, Henningson said, "Now you've combined knowledge of a risk but failure to act, and negligence in failing to remediate it. You want your people with sufficient knowledge so if there is damage it will be properly reported and handled."

"It's not appropriate to panic," advised Mary Ann Rothman, executive director of the Council of New York Cooperatives. "One of the real resources of co-ops and condos is the building staff who have learned from the consultant to recognize the friable asbestos."

For the most part, the experts agreed, intact asbestos is not a health concern. Giamboi concluded, "Don't bother it and it won't bother you. "
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Title Annotation:advice on operation and maintenance procedures for decreasing health and legal risks in hiring asbestos consultants and contractors
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Sep 15, 1993
Previous Article:Galbreath Riverbank debuts office report.
Next Article:Barney's: boon to neighborhood.

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