Asbestos Abatement: What to Know About Removing Asbestos

Worker with special white suit, gloves and mask removing asbestos on construction site after demolition

Asbestos was commonly used in construction materials, such as drywall products, floor tile and roofing shingles, with some of these materials containing asbestos up until the mid 1980s. Asbestos is most dangerous when it becomes airborne, which can lead to diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. 

The process of removing asbestos or minimizing its impact is called abatement, and is a crucial part of handling asbestos in buildings or materials and should be done by professionals. Let's take a look at the process, why it matters, and who should do it.

Is Asbestos Abatement Necessary?

If you suspect that your house contains asbestos, you may be interested in having it removed. You may also be wondering what will happen if you decide to renovate your home. While having asbestos removed may seem like the best thing to do in light of our knowledge of the dangers of asbestos, it should be noted that asbestos removal is not always necessary. In some cases, doing so could actually increase the risks to you and your loved ones. 

If asbestos-containing materials such as drywall and floor tile are undamaged, it is advisable to leave it alone. You should always check with the proper authorities before beginning any project, and trained inspectors should be hired to investigate whether or not asbestos is present. If asbestos materials are present, you should hire qualified asbestos removal professionals to ensure that this dangerous mineral is taken out and disposed of properly.

Who to Call for Asbestos Removal

There are several different types of professionals suited for this job, from general asbestos contractors to specialists such as roofing, flooring, and plumbing contractors. The federal government offers training courses in asbestos removal. State and local health departments and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regional offices are a few trustworthy places to turn to for lists of local, licensed professionals. You can also check the yellow pages of the phone book. It is important to remember that licensed professionals should always be consulted before beginning any asbestos removal project.

The Case of Libby, Montana

Libby, Montana was the site of vermiculite mining for decades. Vermiculite is a mineral that has commonly been used in attic and wall insulation. Libby has been credited as being the source of more than 70 percent of vermiculite sold in the U.S. between 1919 and 1990. Asbestos was also present in the Libby mine, which left the town’s air, soil, homes, and even nearby forests at risk for asbestos contamination.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working to decontaminate Libby from asbestos since late 1999, after conducting tests to determine levels of asbestos that were present in the town. In 2002, Libby was designated a Superfund site, and in the years since there have been numerous lawsuits, investigations, and sections of cleanup. In 2020, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality took over much of the oversight from the EPA. 

Repercussions Beyond Libby

In light of the cleanup in Libby, many people may be wondering what to do if they suspect their home contains vermiculite insulation from Libby. The EPA recommends that insulation containing vermiculite be left undisturbed in most cases. Whenever there is a question, homeowners should hire trained asbestos professionals.

Asbestos Vacuum Cleaners

As a part of the EPA’s cleanup, many residents of Libby have been issued asbestos vacuum cleaners to use in their homes and businesses to collect and contain any leftover asbestos fibers. These are special vacuums known as HEPA, or high efficiency particulate air, vacuums.

Unlike regular vacuum cleaners, which release air back into the environment through exhaust, vacuums equipped with HEPA filters prevent asbestos fibers from reentering the surroundings. They do this by filtering the air that is exhausted. HEPA vacuums, like those provided to residents of Libby, are not intended for bulk asbestos removal. Asbestos removal should only be performed by trained asbestos professionals. The vacuums provided to Libby by the EPA are only for low-level removal of any remaining dust contamination that was not removed by the EPA’s larger-scale efforts. They are intended as an ongoing method for reducing asbestos risks to residents.

Asbestos Lawsuits

If you have been exposed to asbestos and are wondering about your legal options, we can help. Cooney and Conway is a local and national leader in asbestos litigation. Contact us by phone or fill out the form below if you would like help with your case.