November 25, 2011

The dangers of asbestos

The dangers of asbestos have been known for a very long time and even the companies that made billions off of asbestos products have long since given up defending the virtues of asbestos. Unfortunately, there were way too many years between identifying the dangers of asbestos and getting asbestos pulled off the market but finally new asbestos products have been almost universally banned.

The biggest problem with asbestos today is dealing with the past. People still suffer from mesothelioma and other respiratory problems caused by asbestos. Perhaps an even bigger problem is how to deal with the asbestos that is still out there in older buildings, concrete and insulation. For more than half of the 20th century asbestos was used just about anywhere that required insulation. It was just about everywhere out there - and still is.

Of course the public outcry against asbestos called for the immediate removal of all asbestos anywhere people were exposed to the hazard. However, this is often easier said than done. In all too many cases the biggest expense involved in renovating an older building is dealing with asbestos. Often the expense of totally removing asbestos has prevented renovation of older buildings. Demolishing or renovating old buildings used to be easy but not anymore.

For many years asbestos removal was at a stand still. Those companies that could afford to remove asbestos insulation in their buildings had already done so; often at great expense. Those companies with smaller financial resources usually just left their old buildings alone and delayed dealing with the asbestos. Finally in the 1990s governments started to approve alternate ways of dealing with asbestos in buildings.

Currently there are 3 approved ways of dealing with asbestos in older buildings. Removal is still the preferred way, but is very expensive and not entirely without dangers. Simply getting the asbestos out exposes it to people. The trick and expense in asbestos removal is keeping it out of the air and away from people. An additional problem with asbestos removal is you have to install new insulation and fireproofing, usually fiberglass, to replace the asbestos you are removing.

A second way of dealing with asbestos is called encapsulation. This involves actually building a structure around the asbestos so that it is totally contained. In some cases this is a viable option but usually it is almost as expensive as removal. Many buildings cannot handle the extra weight of the encapsulation structure.

The third way of dealing with asbestos is called encasement. With this procedure a special 2-part coating is sprayed over the asbestos totally preventing exposure to the fibers. The first coat is a primer that binds with the asbestos fibers, holds them in place and also prepares the surface for the second coat. The second coat is the sealer that does just that, totally sealing off the asbestos.

Independent testing of encasement has shown that the final surface is completely safe. There are no airborne fibers or other volatile substances coming off the surface. It is totally harmless. In the field, encasement has proven to be more than 50 percent less expensive compared to removal and can be done in half the time and with much less labor expense. The big drawback with encasement is the asbestos is still there but as long as the building isn't changed or demolished the encasement coating renders the asbestos totally harmless.