What does an asbestos abatement look like?

Until last week, I had no idea what asbestos abatement actually looked like. I’d seen vague pictures on the internet, but truly I envisioned something like the astronaut home invasion scene from E.T.  Ferens Asbestos Abatement

Turns out, it’s actually a little like that.

The EPA didn’t fully ban the use of asbestos until 1989. This structure was built about 1883. That’s more than 100 years of asbestos-enhanced upgrades. Asbestos is a wonderful fire-retardant and insulator, so it was widely used through the late 1970s.

Before they came to us, the Ferenses had an environmental engineer come in to do asbestos testing as part of their fact-gathering process.

Even though they planned to use the upstairs as a single-family residence, it is still a public building. The EPA’s National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) requires that a survey be performed to determine presence of asbestos before doing any renovation or demolition.

The report came back as an 84-page manifesto detailing each of the 61 samples taken.

Portions of many different types of materials were ‘hot’ (contained asbestos). Some of the floor tile, but not all; some of the paint, plaster, window caulking. Mastic under the linoleum. Again, not all.

Ferens Asbestos AbatementSo when we got the go ahead, we contracted with a licensed abatement company. They registered the clean-up with the State of Texas, then brought in massive HEPA filters, air monitors, decontamination units, hazmat suits, respirators, dozens upon dozens of yards of plastic sheeting and tubing, a case of duct tape, and about a dozen expert people.

They taped off ‘hot’ areas with plastic sheeting, with tubes moving air through giant air-handling units equipped with specialized filters. Attached to the units were decontamination modules that the crew passed through in their hazmat suits, which blasted them with air to dislodge and filter out any particles that might have attached to their protective gear. Digital air monitors hung at strategic points outside the taped off areas to make sure there was no leakage.

The effect was somewhat surreal, and really did feel a bit cinematic. But not nearly as scary as the E.T. scene I envisioned.

And in just five days, crews removed all of the areas of materials that tested positive for asbestos, while state inspectors stopped by periodically to have a look.