The presence of asbestos can be hazardous to workers and building occupants during renovations and even in the course of daily business, and the only way to know if it is a problem is to test for it.
What Is Asbestos and Why Is It a Problem?
Asbestos is a heat-resistant silicate fiber that is frequently present in building materials. Contrary to common understanding, it is still used in building materials today and can be present in any building of any age.
It becomes a problem when asbestos-containing materials are disturbed and the fibers enter the air. The fibers lodge themselves in the lungs of anyone who breathes them in and can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other acute and long-term health problems, up to and including death.
How and When Should You Test for Asbestos?
An asbestos test (also called an asbestos survey) should be conducted prior to any renovation or demolition activities in any building of any age. In fact, an asbestos survey is required by law prior to these activities for any building materials which may be disturbed.
You should also be concerned about the ongoing presence of asbestos in older buildings, where asbestos-containing materials may have deteriorated over time. This can cause them to release asbestos fibers into the air, creating a hazard for building occupants. An asbestos survey is a relatively inexpensive way to ensure your buildings are safe for tenants and employees.
How Does an Asbestos Test Work?
A qualified asbestos company will bring in an experienced team to collect samples of potential asbestos-containing building materials. The samples will be sent to a lab for testing, and a report will be generated based on the results.
How Much Does an Asbestos Test Cost?
An asbestos survey is a relatively inexpensive precaution and may be mandated by law prior to even small renovation projects. The cost to conduct asbestos testing will vary widely based on a number of factors, including:
- The type of facility. The more complex the building, the more time it will take to collect an adequate number of samples from all the relevant types of materials. It will also cost more to have more samples tested in the lab. For example, an asbestos survey of a hospital would be much more expensive than the same size open warehouse.
- Type of survey. For example, a survey for a renovation of a small portion of the building, affecting a limited number of building materials, will generally cost substantially less than a building demolition survey which will affect all of the building’s components and materials.
- Square footage. A larger facility will likewise require more time and a larger number of samples, all else being equal.
- Facility use. If the facility is currently in use, the cost of testing will increase to account for accommodations and protections necessary for the safety and comfort of your occupants. In some cases, such as hospitals, extra care will be required to minimize disruption and ensure safety, which can further increase the cost.
- Accessibility. If asbestos surveyors have to crawl into tight spaces, remove walls or ceiling materials, climb to high spaces, or use ladders and scaffolding to reach potential asbestos-containing materials, those factors will increase the cost of testing.
It’s hard to know exactly what your cost for an asbestos survey will be without a qualified quotation.
About the Author
Robert B. Greene, PE, PG, CIH, LEED AP has served in the engineering, environmental consulting, construction and remediation arenas for more than 36 years, including president of GLE since 1989. He has managed numerous consulting and contracting projects for public and private sector clients throughout the United States with construction and environmental remediation costs exceeding $100 million.
In 1987, the governor appointed Mr. Greene to the Florida Asbestos Committee, which was responsible for developing state asbestos regulations. He has also served as an expert witness for litigation for environmental and construction related issues.