Asbestos is a fibrous mineral used in construction until the 1980s. Because of its properties of heat resistance and fire resistance it was used to strengthen building materials.
Since then, however, it has been recognized as a health hazard, and there are a number of federal safety regulations regarding buildings with asbestos-containing materials. It is important for businesses to avoid using buildings with asbestos not only because of the health risks to their employees and customers but also because of the inconvenience involved in expensive and time-consuming adherence to asbestos regulations.
The Dangers of Asbestos
Asbestos-containing materials are not dangerous if they are left undisturbed. If your business is already located in a building containing asbestos, the best solution is to leave the material alone. However, when asbestos material becomes old, the asbestos becomes friable, or dry and crumbly.
Additionally, cutting, hammering, sawing, drilling, breaking, moving or otherwise damaging asbestos-containing materials while renovating releases asbestos fibers. When they become loose in the air, these microscopic fibers can be easily breathed in. They become lodged in the lungs or other parts of the body, where they cause irritation and inflammation leading to various asbestos-related diseases. Some of the most severe of these include asbestosis, a non-cancerous disease that causes scarring in the lungs, lung cancer, a form of cancer exacerbated by smoking that causes tumors in the lungs, and mesothelioma, an extremely rare but virulent form of cancer.
Dealing With Asbestos in Commercial Buildings
Because older buildings are less expensive to rent, businesses are tempted to utilize them. But the inconvenience and costs of dealing with asbestos-containing materials more than make up for the space savings.
For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as local state and municipal agencies, require custodial and maintenance workers exposed to asbestos-related materials to receive special training in the health effects of asbestos, the location of asbestos in the building, how to recognize deterioration of asbestos-containing materials, work practices in dealing with asbestos, the use of respirators and protective clothing, and other topics relating to asbestos handling.
Renovation of Commercial Buildings With Asbestos
When businesses move into a new building, it is often desirable for them to renovate the structure to reflect the particular demands of the business.
However, if the building has asbestos-containing materials, the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for asbestos, or NESHAP, has specific guidelines and restrictions on how such renovation can be carried out. A licensed asbestos inspector must first collect samples of asbestos-containing materials for laboratory analysis. During the renovation, a person trained in NESHAP regulations is obliged to be in attendance, the section under renovation must be completely sealed from the rest of the building, workers must wear protective clothing and respirators with asbestos-filtering cartridges, and the asbestos must be disposed of in large pieces in sealed containers.
Businesses should consider whether the immediate reduction in rent of using an older building with asbestos-containing materials is worth the cost of maintenance and renovation as well as the potential risk to workers. Paying increased rent for a modern building without asbestos may be more economical in the long run. If you’ve been exposed to asbestos, be sure to see your doctor if you manifest symptoms such as painful coughing, weight loss and difficulty breathing. If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, contact a lawyer who specializes in asbestos lawsuits.