When it comes to asbestos exposure, demolition and wrecking crews face a danger of diseases, such as asbestosis or malignant mesothelioma, that is substantially above the norm. The fact is that asbestos products have been used in buildings for decades, and even today, there are products with asbestos-containing materials (ACM) that are legally marketed as “asbestos-free.”
Pipe lagging, asbestos cement siding, insulation, wall board, “popcorn” ceilings, joint and patching compounds, drywall tape, fire brick, floor tile and linoleum and firestopping materials used around wood-burning stoves are just the beginning when it comes to listing ACM building materials. In addition, there have been textured paints, door gaskets if furnaces, pipe and conduit insulation, window putty, acoustic ceiling tiles, roofing felt, and “transite” shingles (a roofing material made with ACM Portland cement).
A great deal of this is of course “non-friable” – meaning that it theoretically “safe” as long as it is “not disturbed”. The problem is that such “non-friable” materials often become “friable” – that is to say, a state at which it can be crushed by hand, releasing asbestos fibers into the air – as they age and deteriorate. They can also be disturbed by the very process of demolition and renovation.
Zonolite™, a type of wall-board marketed by the W.R. Grace corporation from 1925 until 1985 is an example of ACM a building product that is considered “asbestos free.” Zonolite was manufactured from vermiculite, a form of clay also found in gas fireplaces that by itself is harmless. The problem is that vermiculite used by W.R. Grace & Company was contaminated with asbestos fibers from their nearby asbestos mines in Libby, Montana.
ACM building products that are considered “asbestos free” may by law contain up to 1% asbestos.
If you currently work on a demolition or wrecking crew, you should be aware of the hazards. In many states, regulations require that a site slated for demolition or renovation be inspected for asbestos contamination beforehand. Any asbestos found on-site must be abated or contained prior to starting any such project.
Asbestos-related diseases – particularly the rare form of asbestos cancer known as mesothelioma – usually have a latency period of anywhere from twenty to fifty years after initial exposure. Not all who are exposed contract a disease – much depends on the amount and concentration of asbestos, as well as the length of the exposure. Those who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma should contact a mesothelioma lawyer with experience in asbestos litigation, as determining liability is often a highly complex matter.