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Testing for Asbestos

I want to remodel my apartment by creating an opening above the kitchen counters into the dining room. My designer told me I have to hire an inspector to conduct an asbestos survey and then file the report with the city. When I bought my newly built condo three years ago, I was told it was free of asbestos. So why do I need an asbestos survey and what exactly does it entail?

Since your remodeling job requires cutting through walls, you will need a work permit from the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB). Every repair, maintenance, renovation, or remodeling project that requires a DOB work permit also requires an asbestos survey. Even if you were told your condo does not contain asbestos, New York City Local Law 76/85 mandates a survey to verify that no asbestos is present in the materials that will be demolished before the construction work can begin.

Because it is lightweight and fire-resistant, asbestos was regularly used for many years in a wide variety of construction materials. As a result, many New York City 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 in building construction, especially in buildings built after the mid-1980s.

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

Because friable ACM is easily broken apart or torn, it is potentially dangerous when disturbed, whereas the sturdier non-friable ACM poses less of a risk. In either case, cutting, drilling, pulling up roofing membranes, removing floors, walls, or ceilings, 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 minimizes the risk of airborne asbestos. An asbestos survey, therefore, is part and parcel of most repair or renovation projects, be it a major roof replacement or a relatively minor interior remodeling job such as yours.

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 during the project.

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 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.

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 asbestos-containing materials are present, the investigator completes an ACP-5 (Asbestos Control Program) form. The ACP-5 states that there is no friable asbestos-containing material 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 New York 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 licensed to remove asbestos can perform the work-not the investigator, engineer, architect, or the contractor hired for the repair project.

As part of the abatement project, 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 NYC 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 asbestos containing material is removed, the investigator returns to the site to verify that the ACM has been removed, 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 testing for friable ACM and $75 to $150 per sample for testing 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.

Rand Engineering has been providing integrated engineering and architectural services to the co-op and condo community since 1987.



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