Testing for Asbestos While Renovating: When It's Required, When It's Not

By Stephen Varone & Peter Varsalona in Co-op/Condo Buyers


So you want to remodel your apartment by creating a pass-through counter between the kitchen and the dining room. Your designer says you have to hire an inspector to conduct an asbestos survey and file a report with the city. But when you bought your newly built condo just a couple years ago, you were told it was asbestos-free. So why do you need an asbestos survey, and what does it entail?

The answer is that any remodeling job involving cutting through walls requires a work permit from the New York City Department of Buildings — and whatever requires a DOB work permit also requires an asbestos survey. Even if you were told your condo does not contain asbestos, Local Law 76/85 mandates a survey to verify that no asbestos is present in the materials that will be demolished.

Because it is lightweight and fire-resistant, asbestos was regularly used for many years in construction materials. As a result, many buildings contain asbestos in at least a few places, most commonly in insulation, roofing, and floor tile. It is also sometimes found in plaster, caulking, and exterior windowsills. Over time, the dangers of asbestos as a carcinogen became better understood, which led to a drastic reduction in its use.

Two Types of Asbestos

Asbestos-containing material (ACM), defined as any material with more than one percent asbestos, comes in two forms: friable and non-friable. Friable ACM, such as insulation, is brittle, easily crumbles and readily becomes airborne when crushed. Non-friable ACM, such as floor tile and most roofing materials, is thicker and tougher, and so not as easily released into the air.

Friable ACM is potentially dangerous when disturbed, whereas the sturdier non-friable ACM poses less risk. In either case, cutting, drilling and other types of demolition usually generate a lot of dust, creating a potential hazard of asbestos inhalation. Local Law 76/85 was enacted as a precautionary measure to ensure that any project involving such demolition — even relatively minor interior remodeling jobs — faces minimal risk of airborne asbestos.

For buildings in New York City, an asbestos investigator certified by both the city and the state must conduct the asbestos survey. Working from demolition plans provided by the project's designer or architect, the investigator takes samples of each type of material from the area(s) that will be disturbed or demolished.

The number of samples taken varies, depending on the type of material and the amount of surface area being demolished. According to guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, at least one sample should be taken for each type of miscellaneous material (such as flooring and roofing) and at least three or more for other types of materials, such as spray-on fireproofing.

Only a contractor specifically licensed

to remove asbestos can do so.

The samples are then sent to a certified laboratory for analysis. The lab determines the amount of both types of asbestos in the materials and sends the results to the investigator. If no friable ACM is present, the investigator completes an ACP-5 (Asbestos Control Program) form that states either this or that the friable ACM area is less than 10 square feet or less than 25 linear feet. The form also notes if there is non-friable ACM present.

The ACP-5 is then filed with the DOB and the city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), verifying that the work is a not a friable-asbestos project. It still, however, may be a "non-friable asbestos project," meaning that, although no friable ACM was found, there is non-friable ACM that will be disturbed in the course of demolition.

If asbestos-containing material of either type is found in the samples, then an asbestos abatement project must be conducted before any construction or renovation work can begin. Only a contractor specifically licensed to remove asbestos can perform the work.

As part of the abatement process, an independent asbestos air monitor must be present to ensure that airborne asbestos is kept below the allowable limit. If the asbestos-containing material found in the samples is friable, then an ACP-7 form must be filed with the DEP declaring that it is a friable asbestos project. Unlike the ACP-5, the ACP-7 is filed only with the DEP, not with the DOB, and anyone can file it, not just the inspector. (Typically, it's the asbestos abatement contractor.) After the ACM is removed, the investigator returns to the site to confirm this, and then files the ACP-5.

Local Law 76/85 surveys are usually billed as a base fee plus lab costs for each sample taken. Survey fees typically run several hundred dollars, plus $25 to $50 lab fee per sample for friable ACM and $75 to $150 per sample for non-friable ACM. There is also a $15 fee for filing the ACP-5 with the DOB. The fee for filing the ACP-7 with the DEP ranges from a minimum of $200 to a maximum of $1,200, depending on the size of the area being disturbed or demolished.


Stephen Varone and Peter Varsalona are principals at Rand Engineering & Architecture.

Adapted from Habitat January 2003. For the complete article and more, join our Archive >>

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