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Worksite Health

Asbestos

11/02/2006

Question:

I recently started working in an historic building that is at least 80 years old -- it was wired in 1926, but originally had gas lighting, so it`s probably older. I`ve noticed that in the basement there are a lot of pipes that are covered with an insulation. I`m wondering if it`s asbestos, which was commonly used at the time. What would be the best way to get this identified and cleaned up?

Answer:

If I had to guess I would say the insulation is asbestos.  Treat it as if it is until you know better.

First, do not disturb the insulation in any way. As long as the fibers are not disturbed and allowed to get into the air, the health risks are very low.

Second, I don’t know anything about whom you work for, but if it’s a private-sector concern I would speak with someone in management (maybe HR) to see if they will pay for an environmental consultation. The consultant can carefully take a sample for analysis. They can also test the air in the working environment, if warranted by the initial sample analysis, for excess asbestos fibers. The consultant can make decisions about the best way to deal with it.

Some thinking suggests it’s better to seal the insulation in such a way that the fibers can’t escape. If the decision is to remove the material, it should be done by a contractor who specializes in this kind of hazard abatement.  The process will involve sealing the area, maybe evacuating the building during abatement, monitoring the air, and protecting the workers doing the abatement.

If you work for a public-sector entity, again, consult management to get the ball rolling. The government should pick up the tab for the consultation/abatement.

Please write back if you have any further questions.

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Response by:

J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN
Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences
College of Public Health
The Ohio State University