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This blog is written to help people better understand the complex asbestos world. New or different interpretations of the regulations happen all the time, so it can be frustrating trying to deal with all of this information. Please feel free to comment or even challenge this information. Good luck with your asbestos and feel free to ask us anything.

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Rick Kuhlman

Rick Kuhlman

Rick Kuhlman is the president and owner of HEPA Environmental Services, Inc. He has a bachelor of science from Florida Tech in Biological Oceanography, 1993. He has successfully run a full service asbestos abatement company for over 11 years. Most importantly he has helped people from all walks of life deal with their environmental problems in a safe and efficient manner and had a great time doing it.

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You came to the right place!

We have been removing asbestos for over 11 years and vermiculite has continued to grow as an asbestos issue.  We have climbed into many attics all over Ohio and I wanted to share what we have learned and help out as much as possible.

If you want to learn more general information about asbestos you can visit our FAQ page.  Below are some pictures of vermiculite from the US EPA web site.

   

What is vermiculite?

Vermiculite is a loose fill insulation used mostly in attics and sometimes in walls.  A particular brand of vermiculite was mined in Libby Montana by W.R. Grace.  For several years it was used as insulation in residential and industrial applications.  Several years latter after it was installed in thousands of attics is was found to contain naturally occurring asbestos.  So now many homeowners are faced with the question of what to do.  

To sample or not to sample?

We say "don't sample".  Why?  Well there are some fancy ways to sample vermiculite and some traditional methods but it is difficult at this point to tell which method is the best.  Some reports will tell you that you have less than 1% asbestos content (not regulated by EPA) and that is nice but it is also like being a little pregnant. 

If you have asbestos in your vermiculite at any percentage then you have asbestos.  There is no safe level of asbestos in a material; there are only safe standards for how many fibers there can be in air. 

So for example, if you had less than 1% asbestos content in the vermiculite and say your friend uses a leaf blower in your attic to dust, this would create a major exposure.  Ok, so that example is a little extreme but if you disturb the material you can make it airborne.  Now you may feel better because it was less than 1% but that doesn't guarantee the fibers will not get into the air.  So the only safe bet is to assume there is asbestos and treat it accordingly.

To remove or not to remove?

I say that depends on what you are doing now and what you plan in the future.  If you have vermiculite in the attic and you do not use it for storage and or go up there, then leave it alone.  Chances are unlikely that you will have an exposure above the Permissible Exposure Limit, PEL.  But, if you try to sell that home, the home inspector may find it and you may have to deal with it.  It has been our experience that any environmental issue can kill a real estate deal or at least complicate the process.  If you plan on renovating the space and that process may disturb the material; then you need to abate the hazard prior to construction.

What if you store stuff in the attic but do not go up there that often?  This is the most difficult question, because I cannot answer this one; only you can.  You have to decide what your own personal level of concern is with respect to asbestos exposure.  We cannot say how much asbestos is ok to breathe.  OSHA was kind enough to set the PEL at 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter but even that is set for an 8-hour work day not based on living in the home.          

How much does this cost?

Difficult question unless we can see your attic, access, and how many personal belongings are stored there.  We can say that on the low end we have charged $4,000.00 and on the high end $20,000.00.  That is a big variance to swallow.  Email us some pictures, rough dimensions, and a picture of the access or description (for example do you have fold down stairs?, access from the garage?, or is it going to take a circus act to get up there?).  You can email us from our Contacts Page.  We will give you a ball park estimate and then if you are still interested we can talk about the next step which would be a site visit and a formal written proposal.  

Zonolite Trust aka ZAI trust.

A trust has been formed by WR Grace to help pay for abatement of vermiculite but you have some hoops to jump through in order to get the money.  You will need to fill out some paperwork and submit a sample or proof  that the vermiculite in the attic is their product.  Just to clarify only the folks at the trust can decide if you are eligible for compensation so sending a sample to a lab will not help your get compensation.  I have confirmed that one client did receive compensation after submitting all of the samples and correct documentation.  I have a link at the end of this post where you can check out their website for more information.

How we do it.

We have invested in the safest, cleanest, and most efficient solution to vermiculite and we call it, a vermiculite eating machine.  We set your attic up as a containment with negative air pressure so what happens up there stays up there or get filtered out.  We park our enclosed trailer safely outside your home and pull a 100 foot hose into you attic though an attic vent and vaccuum the material out though our hose.  This eliminates the need to bag the material and carry it through your home.

 

If you want the safest, cleanest, and most efficient removal of your vermiculite give us a call 330.818.0188.

ZAI Trust Link

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At least once a week we get a call from a home buyer who has just been informed that the home inspector just found asbestos in the house they want to buy.  I would assume since you are in the inspection phase of the process that you did want to buy this house and now you just need to get some perspective on asbestos.  It is not the end of the world and not the end of the deal.  The fact is: any house new or old may have asbestos in the building materials.  Does that mean every house has asbestos in it, no, but unless you sample every building material; you do not know for sure.  If you think asbestos is banned you need to refer to my earlier post “To test or not to test”.  So you may have asbestos in this house what now?  It can it be repaired, removed, enclosed, and in good condition left alone. 

Which option should I choose?  First, I would ask what your plans are for that space.  A common example and frequent call is about the grey/white duct tape or insulation on heating duct.  If the insulation is in good condition and is located in the basement and you wish to use that space for storage and do not plan to spend much time down there then I say; leave it alone.  If the material is in bad condition it will require removal or repair.  If you plan to change the heating system and renovate the space into a play room for the kids then I would recommend removal.                                              

 

You could encapsulate the insulation but I always say if a kid can hit it with a broom stick then get it out of there, if you do not have kids, good choice you have nothing to worry about it including college payments, just kidding.  Other materials can make for other decisions I would treat pipe insulation, floor tile, wall, and ceiling materials the same as the duct situation.  Vermiculite however is a different animal; it is loose fill material and can be disturbed with minimal activity so that makes it easier to create an exposure and brings in some real concerns about using the space for any reason.  For that reason we recommend removal of the vermiculite so that the space can be used, most of the time this is an attic and if you have a family you probably need storage space.

The cost of abatement varies based on access, location, type, and quantity so to help with perspective I am going to give you some typical costs.  Disclaimer: prices may vary based on your situation.  No two abatement projects are the same so it her it goes.  Duct insulation removal usually runs from $1,400.00 to $2,000.00, duct insulation repair is usually like $200.00 less than that.  For pipe insulation figure $250.00 to get there and $15.00 per foot for removal.  Floor tile might be $250.00 to get there plus $4.00 per square foot.  Vermiculite can be on the higher end about $4,000.00 to $8,000.00 and for really complicated attics I have seen that go north of $12,000.00.  I am sure someone will tell you that they can beat these prices, which is fine by me, I cannot promise that we will be the cheapest but I can promise you that no one in this business will care more about you and your customer experience than us. 

So finding asbestos is not the end of the world.  Be happy that someone was looking out for you, and now you know someone who can fix it! 

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“My house is newer so I don’t have to test for asbestos, right?”

WRONG! There is no magic date that they stopped using asbestos.  In fact, asbestos is not completely banned in the United States. Only 10 asbestos containing products are currently banned; the other several thousand are legal.  If you go to your local building supply store and start sampling you may find materials containing asbestos on the shelf for sale.  Worst of all, many people still believe that asbestos is only an issue in old buildings.  That thought has lead to another problem:  resistance to sampling for asbestos prior to a demolition or renovation.  The EPA regulation, NESHAP says that …the owner or operator of a demolition or renovation activity and prior to the commencement of the demolition or renovation, must thoroughly inspect the affected facility for the presence of asbestos…  There is no mention of a date; it just says an owner must thoroughly inspect.  The EPA is not the only agency that regulates asbestos there is OSHA and in Ohio we have the Ohio Department of Health.   They have regulations to protect workers and the public from asbestos exposure, but how do you know if you need training or protection if you don’t even know if you have asbestos?  In order to comply with those regulations you must know if asbestos is present. In the asbestos world you have two options:   assume the material has asbestos or sample, test, and prove otherwise.  Now I have seen some people try the “I didn’t know any better” defense which didn’t work for me the other day when I was pulled over for speeding, and I am pretty sure it will not work with a pissed off government regulator.One of the biggest reasons people believe that newer construction doesn’t have asbestos is the belief that asbestos is or was banned.  Many asbestos products were banned in 1989 but that ruling was over turned in 1991 since the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that EPA did not review economic effects on both sides of the case.They did manage to uphold the ban on thermal system insulation, fireproofing, spray applied surfacing, wall patching, corrugated paper, roll board, commercial paper, specialty paper, and flooring felt and any new uses of asbestos.  They are banned but that doesn’t mean they automatically disappear from all of the buildings in the United States or that other countries will follow the ban.  So it is here and still being installed in new construction. Below is an excerpt from a disturbing article by asbestosnetwork.com:

“Asbestos Found in Many Common Household Products”

…Products that were found to contain asbestos were turned up in children's toys, appliances, hardware, household goods, and home and garden items such as:

  • CSI Fingerprint Investigation Kit
  • Six colors of clay in Art Skills' Clay Bucket
  • Three varieties of Ja-Ru Toy Clay
  • DAP 33 window glazing, made in the USA, and purchased at Lowe's and Home Depot
  • DAP Crack Shot spackling paste, made in the USA, and purchased at Lowe's and Home Depot
  • Gardner Leak Stopper Roof Patch made in the USA, and purchased at Lowe's, Home Depot and Wal-Mart
  • Scotch Duct Tape: High Performance, made in Canada, and purchased at Wal-Mart.

http://www.asbestosnetwork.com/News/Asbestos-Found-in-Every-Day-Products-Including-Children-s-Toys.shtml 

So how do you protect yourself from liability at work or protect your family at home…Follow the law!  Find out if a material has asbestos in it before you disturb it.  

You need to ask yourself “….did I take the appropriate precautions to protect my employees, contractors, or family? 

Do I know for sure? ”Ignorance is not bliss; hire a professional to find out if you have asbestos and then have it abated before you have to explain it to a lawyer on the witness stand!

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It’s hard to watch late night TV without seeing one of those asbestos commercials from a law firm wanting to know if you are sick.  This has raised some awareness and has prompted some questions from clients and friends.  Awareness is a good thing, at least people are asking questions (ignorance is not bliss).  Most people think that asbestos is only in old buildings and some think it has been removed.  Not the case, it is still around and in many buildings, some old and some new.  So, I will try to explain what asbestos is and why you may want to know about it.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that has great properties like heat, chemical, and weather resistance.  These properties make it a great additive to building materials like plaster, flooring, and thermal system insulation.  There are actually thousands of uses for this mineral.  It actually was a good thing when used properly.  However, those properties that make it great for building materials also make it hard for the human body to deal with.  When asbestos containing materials (ACM) are disturbed they can release asbestos fibers into the air and you could inhale or ingest them.  In your lungs you have tiny air sacs call alveoli (they help in the transfer of oxygen into the blood stream).  That air sac can be punctured and since the physical shape of the fiber has a barbed end like a fish hook they are not swept out of the lungs like other fibers you inhale.  That punctured air sac dies and the body forms scar tissue around it and you have one less alveoli.  Enough exposure over a period time can lead to reduced lung function called asbestosis.  These abnormalities can later develop into lung cancer.  Mesothelioma is when that fiber works its way through the lung tissue and settles in the pleural lining of the chest cavity and cancer forms.   I am not a doctor, so that is my basic knowledge on asbestos health effects and I always tell people if you have specific questions about your health or asbestos health risks ask your doctor.

How do you protect yourself from this hazard?  There are many ways to prevent or limit exposure.  The big thing is: knowing where it is and where it isn’t.  If you are doing a renovation on your home or business; ask the question “did you test for asbestos?”  Not everyone will be happy about you asking questions, but if you want to be safe then ask.  Once you know where it is you can hire a licensed contractor to abate the hazard.  We have cleaned up some pretty big messes from other contractors who should have tested materials before disturbing them.  How many times have you thought “hindsight is 20/20”, probably thousands for me.  Do yourself a favor and test the materials, put a plan together to prevent problems, so you don’t make new ones. 

Don’t wait until you need a lawyer.  Do it now.

Tagged in: Asbestos 101
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