NEWS | July 8, 2011

Asbestos awareness

By Bob Gore 628th Civil Engineer Squadron/CEAN Environmental Compliance asbestos program manager

Asbestos is the name of a group of naturally occurring minerals characterized by a fibrous structure. Asbestos is strong, flexible and resistant to damage by heat and chemicals, making it extremely useful as an insulating material, a fire retardant and a reinforcing agent.

Asbestos fibers are, however, a serious health hazard when inhaled or ingested. Airborne asbestos fibers are microscopic in size and unprotected exposure can cause progressive lung damage ranging from shortness of breath to lung cancer. Adverse health effects are significantly magnified by smoking. Health problems, however, usually do not manifest themselves for some 10 to 40 years after the first exposure.

Asbestos used in building construction is known as Asbestos Containing Building Material. Many buildings built prior to 1980 at Joint Base Charleston contain ACBM which can be found in such applications as transite wallboard and ceilings, vinyl asbestos floor tiles and sheet flooring, trawled or sprayed on acoustical ceilings, roofing materials, corrugated transite siding, cement shingles and water pipes, gasket materials, various adhesives and thermal system insulation on boilers, furnaces and associated piping or ductwork.

It is important to realize that the presence of asbestos in a building or even in your work area does not necessarily represent a significant health risk. Many common building materials such as floor tile, adhesives, corrugated siding or cement water pipes are non-friable, meaning that although they contain asbestos fibers, these fibers are tightly bound or fixed within the parent material; therefore, they are not likely to become airborne unless they are mishandled, roughly cut (such as with a skill saw) or mechanically ground or sanded.

More dangerous, but in less use as an ACBM, is thermal system insulation and pipe lagging. This form of ACBM is soft and can be easily damaged. Such ACBM is termed friable, meaning asbestos fibers can be easily released and made airborne. Such sources are, fortunately, usually located in isolated areas such as mechanical rooms and attic or crawl spaces where the risk of exposure to personnel is greatly reduced.

A comprehensive asbestos survey to identify, assess and record asbestos sources in buildings and facilities at Joint Base Charleston has been completed. This survey informs planners and project engineers of asbestos locations and conditions so that inadvertent asbestos fiber release and potential exposure to building occupants or employees and contractors who are performing building repair, maintenance, renovation or demolition can be prevented. In most cases, ACBM sources need not be removed unless they are significantly damaged or will be impacted by a repair, renovation or demolition project. Routine inspection of ACBM sources found during the survey is conducted as a part of the long range asbestos operations and maintenance plan. Assessment of the identified ACBM source's present condition and planning appropriate abatement actions is a part of this plan. All repair, maintenance, renovation and demolition projects are reviewed by the cognizant environmental office to identify ACBM impacts and to place appropriate control measures within the project design and specifications.

Be observant of the condition of ACBM in your work area. Do not disturb flooring, walls, ceilings, pipes, roofing, shingles, siding or any other materials suspected or known to be ACBM by drilling, cutting, chipping or other physical means. Only qualified personnel may remove, repair or otherwise work on ACBM under strictly regulated and controlled conditions.

Janitorial personnel shall not disturb vinyl floor tile or floor coverings by sanding or dry buffing. A chemical stripper shall be used to remove wax build-up. A wet mop, sponge or cloth shall be used for cleaning.

If you see damaged known or suspect ACBM or if such materials are disturbed or otherwise damaged during repair, maintenance, renovation or demolition activities, assume the material is ACBM. Stop work, secure the area and make notification. The situation will be fully evaluated. Appropriate, timely actions, as warranted, will be taken to fully resolve the situation and to minimize the hazard and exposure potential to building occupants, employees and other persons.

If you have any questions concerning asbestos at Joint Base Charleston, contact the Asbestos Program Managers:
Joint Base Charleston Air Base - Carey Stringer at 963-2708
Joint Base Charleston Weapons Station - Mr. Bob Gore at 764-4010