Asbestos has been likened to a sleeping giant: left contained and untouched it can be harmless. However, when disturbed, it releases harmful fibres that, if inhaled, could cause lung damage and lead to cancer.
Prior to the 1980s when its carcinogenic nature was discovered, asbestos was valued for its fireproofing properties and used in many common building materials, such as tile and insulation. The irony? The fire resistant quality that once made it so attractive in construction can make it even more of a hazard after a fire. Rather than destroying asbestos, flames can help spread harmful levels of the substance into the atmosphere, posing a threat to the immediate environment. Similarly, floods and other disasters can disperse asbestos. In fact, there are regulations in all provinces around how asbestos needs to be dealt with after a loss situation.
Here are five best practices to mitigate risk to people and the environment, as well as to protect against liability:
According to legislation, the onus is on building owners to notify contractors of asbestos materials in the affected structure. In turn, the contractor must inform the provincial regulatory body if any asbestos was disturbed. This applies to any routine maintenance work and removal, including after a disaster.
Immediately retain an environmental specialist
In a loss situation involving potentially hazardous materials, it is important to have an environmental specialist on board to make sure a proper plan is in place. This was the case for a large hotel fire in Quebec where the majority of the structure was burned to the ground. Provincial legislation that governs site security and safety, requires an approved plan before work can begin so a specialist was retained right away to establish project scope.
Use an experienced contractor
Removal must be done by professionals who are trained to take the proper precautions to ensure the safety of anyone in the vicinity while limiting exposure to liability. Hire a contractor with experience in asbestos abatement who follows provincial health and safety requirements—and whose employees are certified to conduct asbestos remediation.
Explore your options
Finding a qualified contractor does not mean you need to pay a large premium. Make sure you, or an impartial third party, obtain several bids and review rates to ensure they are inline with fair market value. While the process may take a bit longer, an experienced professional was secured at a considerable savings.
Better safe than sorry
Every loss situation is different. Likewise, every asbestos abatement project poses its own particular set of problems and possible solutions. When dealing with a substance that affects public health and the environment, it is always better to err on the side of caution. This is especially important as many provinces require frequent air sampling during these types of projects, in addition to surface testing after any asbestos abatement work is complete and before containment barriers are removed. For instance, a 50-foot containment barrier initially was suggested for the hotel fire project. Given the extent of the asbestos disruption and the proximity to the community, a higher barrier was needed to ensure thorough containment.
Once asbestos is disturbed, decisive action is needed. All the same, that action should never come at the expense of safety—or without the benefit of knowledge and experience.