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Asbestos  -  Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  What is asbestos?

A:  Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral.  It has been mined, purified and woven into a wide variety of building materials for more than a hundred years.  Asbestos was once mined in the U.S. and is still being mined in Canada.

Q:  What does asbestos look like? 

A:  It may be brown, light gray or even blue.  Its raw form and appearance is not important for most people, since it is usually woven into other materials in a small proportion to other ingredients.

Q:  What is asbestos' purpose?

A:  Asbestos can provide many benefits, among them tensile strength (floor tile and gaskets), heat resistance (boiler gaskets and pipe insulation), and strength (asbestos cement pipe and "Transite" roof and siding panels)

Q:  Why is asbestos dangerous?

A:  Inhaled into the lungs over a long period of time, asbestos can cause a buildup of scar tissue, eventually robbing the lungs' capacity to process oxygen to the heart (asbestosis).

Lung cancer can also be caused by asbestos exposure; its risk is greatly magnified among smokers. 

Mesothelioma - a cancer of the lining between stomach and lungs, is a rare but fatal disease associated with asbestos.

Q:  Is there asbestos in my building?

A:  Probably.  If the building was constructed prior to 1990, almost certainly.  The worst asbestos-containing products were banned in the U.S. circa 1978, but stockpiled asbestos materials continued to be installed for another decade.  Some forms of asbestos (roofing mastics, flooring, etc.) are still being installed in new buildings today.

Q:  How do I know if the area I work in has asbestos?

A:  Ask to see the asbestos survey report, something that is effectively required in commercial/industrial buildings, universities and schools.

Q:  If asbestos is identified in a building material, must it be removed?

A:  Not necessarily.  Floor tile in good condition is one example of a material that presents no hazard if maintained properly.  We've seen original 9" flooring in 70-year old buildings that still looks and performs like new, partially because of its asbestos content.  No asbestos material should be broken up, sanded or drilled without certain precautions.  By the same token, there is no reason not to allow an undamaged asbestos material to continue providing the use or service for which it was designed and manufactured.

Q:  We'll be demolishing two older buildings next month.  Must we have all the asbestos removed first?

A:  Yes.  See AQMD Rule 1403, among others. 

Q:  Our building manager says that all the asbestos was removed from our building.  How can I be sure?

A:  Ask to see a copy of the final closure report issued following the abatement.  Look for the statement, "During this project, all known asbestos materials identified in existing reports and/or during the work were removed."  Even then, it is usually impossible to access all asbestos materials in a building.  For example fireproofing on the perimeter side of an outer column or structural beam is extremely difficult to access; one example of an asbestos material that typically remains even in a "fully abated" building.

Q:  I think asbestos was disturbed in my building.  What is the Owner's responsibility?

A:  In LA County and surrounding areas, any unintentional disturbance of a known asbestos containing material (ACM) requires (a) notification to the South Coast Air Quality Management District; (b) a risk assessment and cleanup plan prepared by a California-certified asbestos consultant, and (c) execution of the cleanup plan by a licensed asbestos removal contractor.

Q:  Thanks, but I have additional questions. 

A:  Check the "Links" section in this category, or call us at 310 544 1837.