Custodians often undertake janitorial duties, those duties and tasks go far beyond sweeping, mopping and taking out the trash. Most custodians are responsible for a great deal of overall building maintenance, including heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) systems, electrical systems and more. These all have the potential to bring one into contact with asbestos containing materials (ACM), especially in older buildings.

Where The Asbestos Is

The idea of a fire in a school – or any other public building – should concern any rational person. It was out of such concerns that asbestos products were used extensively in public buildings prior to 1980. Because it is literally a type of rock, asbestos fibers share many characteristics of rock – it is resistant to heat, acid, moisture, electrical current and most importantly, open flame. Hence, asbestos containing insulation was installed nearly anywhere there was heat or danger of fire. Pipe lagging, electrical conduits and furnace doors were just a few of the places asbestos containing materials were used. Floor tiles, wall board, joint compounds and window putty might also contain asbestos.

While there have been extensive asbestos containment and abatement projects undertaken over the past twenty years, the fact is that hundreds of thousands of public buildings across the U.S. still contain asbestos products.

Where The Danger Is

ACM may be friable or non-friable. “Friable” is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as the ability to crush the material using hand pressure alone. In a friable state, ACM is crumbling into dust, releasing these needle-like fibers into the air where they may be aloft for weeks.

A great amount of state and federal information states that “non-friable” asbestos is safe as long as it is left undisturbed. While this is true to an extent, the fact of the matter is that there is little in the way of solid knowledge as to how ACM products degrade over time. Earth tremors, accidents, and even the vibrations caused by people walking around on a floor above can potentially shake asbestos fibers loose, especially if the product is old and deteriorating.

Building custodians should be monitoring any part of a building in which the presence of asbestos is suspected or known, and a half-face respirator with dual HEPA filters should be worn. If friable asbestos is discovered, the first step is to contact the owner(s) of the building. Legally, they are obligated to deal with the situation according to state environmental regulations; such action in many states includes notification of the building’s occupants. If the building’s owner(s) fail to respond, the next step is to contact the regional office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).