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You are here: Home » Resources » Articles » What is an Asbestos Survey?

April 20, 2018

What is an Asbestos Survey?

By Benjamin Jelin, Ph.D., CIH, CSP


Asbestos was widely used for electrical and building insulation due to its durability and fire resistance, especially between 1930-1970s. While it is still used sparingly in the construction, automotive and materials industries, asbestos has been heavily restricted and phased out since the 1980s due to its toxicity and threat to human health. When asbestos-containing materials (ACM) are damaged or “friable,” asbestos fibers can be released into the air presenting many established health risks to building occupants or workers from exposure or inhalation.

Because of this, numerous federal, state and local regulations control the creation, installment, monitoring and removal of asbestos containing materials.

Why Is an Asbestos Survey Needed?

Visual identification is not enough to determine the presence or absence of asbestos fibers in building materials. Only an Asbestos Survey or Asbestos Screening, which involves a sampling and laboratory analysis of the materials, can accurately identify and quantify asbestos fibers in building materials. Building purchasers and owners should be aware whether their building has ACM so that they can be safely managed or removed. If asbestos containing building materials are in good condition and the asbestos is “sealed,” it can usually be safely managed in place through an Operations & Maintenance Plan.

When Are Asbestos Surveys Performed?

Asbestos surveys are commonly required as part of due diligence during commercial real estate transactions or financing, prior to demolition or renovation of buildings, or after suspected damage to buildings during flooding and after significant natural disasters.

Although the use of asbestos for insulation was banned and phased out beginning in 1989, not all products were banned, and many continue to be manufactured and distributed to this day. It is therefore prudent to obtain an asbestos survey on all facilities when suspect ACM is identified, especially if they are in a damaged or friable condition.

Asbestos continues to be manufactured and used in some building materials to this day, such as roofing materials, joint compound, floor tiles, masts, window caulks, brake pads, and (very rarely) insulation. Because of this it is a Federal requirement that, prior to a demolition or renovation of any building, regardless of the construction date, suspect ACM should be identified. Many local building departments will not issue building permits until an asbestos survey is completed. This is a safeguard since renovation and demolition activities can release asbestos fibers into the air, where they could be inhaled by building occupants and workers.

Finally, an asbestos survey is highly recommended after significant flooding, water damage or a natural disaster event that disrupts or compromises a building’s structure in a significant way. This is often the first step before any structural damage assessments or rebuilding can occur.

Types of Asbestos Surveys

Asbestos Screening
An Asbestos Screening is the best solution if damaged material is being repaired which may pose a potential health risk to building occupants. An Asbestos Screening assesses suspect ACM  by obtaining samples for analysis. It targets areas with damage and potentially friable suspect ACM. This process is generally used on HUD projects and is sometimes referred to as a transactional survey.

Limited Asbestos Survey
A Limited Asbestos Survey is a more comprehensive sampling of building materials and suspected ACM. It is a targeting sampling, based on customer need, for a homogenous building material that could include the roof, certain walls, siding, and/or any singular area where ACM is suspected or probable.

Path of Construction/Pre-Renovation Asbestos Survey
Path of Construction / Pre-Renovation Asbestos Survey is a comprehensive survey of building material but is limited to the path of construction and/or the actual building materials. This test could be used when renovating a single storefront in a strip mall, for example. The Asbestos Survey in this instance would ensure that the renovation taking place would not impact the environment or release ACM to areas that are disturbed during construction or renovation activities.

Pre-Demolition Asbestos Survey
A Pre-Demolition Asbestos Survey is by far the most comprehensive ACM assessment. This survey inspects all facets of an entire building, including interior and exterior building materials, utilizing destructive sampling protocols. A demolition survey necessitates the destruction of small sections of the building to discover ACM behind the walls, floors, or other hard to get to areas. In other cases, additional ACM is discovered during the actual demolition as it nearly impossible to observe all hidden areas within a building.

Asbestos Removal and Abatement

There are many asbestos management options for customers in addition to removal of ACM based on need: abatement oversight, air monitoring, development of an operations & maintenance plan (O&M) and/or clearance sampling to ensure asbestos fibers are not present in the air after removal. However, an asbestos survey is the first step to ensure that you receive your permits and can execute the necessary renovation or demolition plans.

An asbestos survey is a worthwhile investment to protect potential harm to human life and ensuring a successful transaction across all types of commercial and multifamily real estate. It is critical to engage a team of certified professionals that stays current with state, local and federal regulations and certification requirements, including EPA AHERA, Certified Asbestos Consultant (CAC), Management Planners, Project Designers, Contractor Supervisor, and Building Inspector.

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