Is Ontario “Open for Business” when it comes to Excess Soil Management?

by  Grant Walsom, XCG Consultants

Since the 2013 call for a review in the
regulatory gaps surrounding the ability for enforcement on mismanagement of
excess soils in Ontario, the Ministry of Environment (now called Ministry of
Environment, Conservation and Parks – MECP) has tirelessly worked towards a
proposed Excess Soil Regulatory package for Ontario.  The efforts have
included an unprecedented process of stakeholder listening sessions,
consultations and engagement group meetings and inter-Ministerial reviews over
the past 5 years.

The proposed Excess Soil Regulatory Package
was formed through 2 separate postings on the Environmental Bill of Rights
(EBR) and is reportedly ready for Cabinet Approval.  Further, the
regulatory package is formulated with general overall acceptance by the
construction and development industry in Ontario as well as the supporting
industries (i.e., legal, consulting, laboratories) and municipalities.  It
is generally agreed that the proposed Regulation outlines possible
opportunities for beneficial reuse with sustainable considerations (examples
would be reduced truck traffic and reduced greenhouse gases creation).

We are coming to understand that the
current Conservative Provincial Government is strongly opposed to a majority of
initiatives created by the previous Liberal Government.  The Conservatives
are in favour of the red-tape reduction, streamlining operations and fiscal
responsibility.  In fact, there is now a Deputy Minister of Red Tape and
Regulatory Burden Reduction in the Ontario Cabinet.  His job is to make
Ontario “Open for Business.”  Any new Regulation such as those being
reviewed by MECP could certainly be viewed as counter-productive in terms of
red-tape reduction.    However, with the release of the Made-in-
Ontario Environment Plan on November 29, 2018, it appears that Excess Soil
Regulation will be enacted in some form in the not-to-distant future. 
There will no doubt be some changes to the proposed Regulatory package, but it
is good to see that Regulation will proceed.

To date, one of the biggest challenges that
the enforcement regime of the Environment Ministry had was the gap in how
excess soil (impacted with contaminants or not) could be classified as a “waste
material” if it’s not managed properly or if it’s illegally dumped.  We
have all seen the extensive media coverage of a number of illegal dump sites,
innocent property owners mislead on the quality of the fill they are accepting,
and private air-fields who have capitalized on the regulatory gaps in Ontario
where excess soil is concerned.  Enforcement against illegal dumping or
misrepresentation of the soil quality is not clear or easily achieved under the
current Environmental Protection Act and regulations such as Regulation 347
(Waste Management).  Minor amendments to Regulation 153/04 (Brownfields
Regulation) have also been proposed to assist in streamlining and simplifying
filing of Records of Site Condition and redevelopment of Brownfield
properties.  Further definitions of soil, waste and inert fill are also
forthcoming in the new proposed Excess Soil Regulatory package.

One of the main benefits of the proposed Excess Soil Regulation is the clarity it provides in the expectations of appropriate management of excess soil along with the steps that would be followed to provide the level of certainty that the public would expect.  It puts a heavy onus on the generator of the excess soil (or the source site) to assess the quality against a set of new standards.  The Standards were developed as a subset of the O. Reg. 153/04 Brownfield Standards, aimed at assisting in identifying acceptable and beneficial re-use of the excess soil.

Beneficial reuse of excess soil has a
strong consideration for soil quality in terms of chemical testing to assess
for contaminants; however, Ontario soils are highly variable with respect to
the geotechnical quality for engineered reuse (i.e., silt, clay, sands, gravels
and poor quality mixed fill).  Recovered excess soil may require some
screening/grading to classify the geotechnical qualities prior to identifying
an appropriate engineered and beneficial reuse.  Market-based solutions
and opportunities for excess soil supply and demand services are sure to be
identified as creative Ontarians have historically shown innovation in finding
geotechnical solutions for excess soil.  The new regulatory package allows
for this to happen to the benefit of both sender and receiver parties.
Increasingly, clients are also choosing to avoid moving soils by employing
methods to limit or even eliminate the amount of soils that have to be moved
from a poor fill site with things like landscaped architectural features or
ground improvement to treat soils in place.

Another benefit of the proposed excess soil
regulation is the placement of the responsibility to ensure and “certify” the
quality of the excess soil and the appropriate handling and re-use of the
material by the source site or generator.  This requires a shift in the
thinking around management of any excess soil materials to be assessed and
pre-planned at the beginning of a project, versus at the last minute and left
to the excavation contractor, as has historically been done.  The shift in
thinking and pre-planning may take time, but with the assistance of the
“Qualified Person” community in Ontario, the planning can be simplified.
 The industry is already starting to shift to a more responsible
management of excess soils, with the knowledge of potential Regulatory changes.
The proposed Excess Soil Regulatory package has a well-defined transition
period of two full years to be fully enacted, giving the construction and
development industry time to become used to the shift in thinking and
pre-planning as well as the procurement groups to ensure that the appropriate
assessment and characterization activities are completed.

The benefits of many aspects of the
proposed Excess Soil Regulatory package are clear and are desired in
Ontario.  The business community has hoped that the current Conservative
Government in Ontario understands that the Excess Soil Regulatory package has
been requested by the citizens of Ontario, and formulated through an exhaustive
consultation and engagement of the various stakeholders in the Province. It has
also been hoped that the current Provincial Government sees the value in many
aspects of the proposed regulatory package for management of excess
soils.  With reference to Excess Soil Regulation in the Environment Plan,
it certainly appears that the current Provincial Government does see the
value.  Further, the complimentary minor amendments to the soil and waste
definitions are needed as are the proposed amendments to the Brownfield
Regulation.

Since the June 2018 election, the construction and development industries in Ontario have been patiently waiting for clarity on how the current Provincial Government plans to proceed.  It is clear that this new legislative change will help to make Ontario open for business and it appears that the current Provincial Government agrees.  We will now see what changes to the proposed Regulatory Package will be made, hopefully, sooner than later.

This article was first published in the Geosolv website.

About the Author

Grant Walsom, P.Eng., is a Partner at XCG Consulting Limited and recognized as a Qualified Person in Ontario under the Record of Site Condition Regulation (O. Reg. 153/04). He proudly serves on the Board of Directors at the Ontario Environment Industry Association (ONEIA) and the Canadian Brownfields Network (CBN). Grant can be reached at grant.walsom@xcg.com.

Englobe and DST Join Forces

Englobe Corp. (“Englobe”), a Canadian-based company specializing in Soils, Material and Environmental Engineering, with an established network of more than 55 offices and 30 laboratories across Canada, recently acquired DST Group Inc. (“DST”). DST is a consulting engineering firm founded over 60 years ago with more than 165 employees and nine offices across Ontario and Western Canada. By joining forces, Englobe and DST increase their footprints with 14 offices and 350 staff in Ontario and nearly 160 staff across six offices in Western Canada.

Both companies will be well positioned to offer complementary services and expertise to each other’s clients in both geographical areas, including municipalities, provincial and federal governments, and private sector clients.

“DST shares the same important values as Englobe – focusing on our employees, offering innovative solutions to our clients and emphasizing high-quality project management. We are very happy to have found a partner in Englobe with whom we can build upon our mutual strengths and provide exciting new opportunities to both employees and clients. Our enhanced service offering in the regions will benefit clients nationwide,” says Maurice Graveline, former CEO of DST and new Vice President Operations Ontario at Englobe.

Stephen Montminy, Englobe Co-President, says: “We are extremely pleased to welcome DST to the Englobe family. Its well-established reputation will contribute to consolidating our presence in Ontario and Western Canada and I look forward to seeing the beneficial impacts as we grow together. This is an exciting continuation of our pan-Canadian growth path and creates many new jobs and business opportunities.”

In November, Englobe Corp eacquired McIntosh Lalani Engineering Ltd, a Calgary-based consulting engineering business specializing in geotechnical engineering and materials testing services.  McIntosh Lalani, established in 1997, will continue to operate under its existing name.

Englobe is backed by ONCAP, the mid-market investment arm of Canadian private equity firm Onex Corp. ONCAP invested in 2006 and later partnered in Englobe’s acquisitions and go-private deal in 2011.

Englobe Soil Treatment Facility

About Englobe Corp. and DST, a division of Englobe Corp.

Englobe offers a full range of services and solutions in soils, material and environmental engineering ranging from project design and environmental impact surveys, to technical know-how and consulting to, ultimately, regenerating the earth. The firm provides integrated, sustainable and innovative solutions designed to exceed the expectations of its clients, in both private and public sectors, who are looking for reliable technical expertise, know-how and capabilities customized to each of their projects. Englobe is proud to leverage more than 50 years of achievements in Canada, France and UK to go beyond expertise by empowering its dedicated people to share their work and passion for the benefit of our partners, communities and the environment. englobecorp.com

DST Group Inc. is a consulting engineering firm specializing in Environmental Engineering/Science, Hazardous Materials Consulting, Geotechnical Engineering, Construction Materials Testing, and collectively, Facilities Blasting/Demolition Engineering/Acoustics & Vibration Monitoring. The firm provides services in Ontario and Western Canada. DST was established in 1956 and is an employee-owned firm. dstgroup.com

Business Opportunities for Environmental Research and Development

The United States Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) is seeking environmental research and development proposals for funding beginning in FY 2020. Projects will be selected through a competitive process. The Core Solicitation provides funding opportunities for basic and applied research and advanced technology development. Core projects vary in cost and duration consistent with the scope of the work proposed.

The Statements of Need (SON) referenced by this solicitation request proposals related to the SERDP program areas of Environmental Restoration (ER), Munitions Response (MR), Resource Conservation and Resiliency (RC), and Weapons Systems and Platforms (WP).

The SERDP Exploratory Development (SEED) Solicitation provides funding opportunities for work that will investigate innovative environmental approaches that entail high technical risk or require supporting data to provide proof of concept.

Funding is limited to not more than $200,000 and projects are approximately one year in duration. This year, SERDP is requesting SEED proposals for the Munitions Response and Weapons Systems and Platforms program areas. All Core pre-proposals are due January 8, 2019. SEED proposals are due March 5, 2019. For more information and application instructions, see https://www.serdp-estcp.org/Funding-Opportunities/SERDP-Solicitations.

Market Report on VOC Detectors

VOC Detector Market

QY Research recently published the Global Market Study VOC Detector Market Provide Forecast Report 2018 – 2025.  The report presents a detailed analysis of the VOC Detector market which researched industry situations, market Size, growth and demands, VOC Detector market outlook, business strategies utilized, competitive analysis by VOC Detector Market Players, Deployment Models, Opportunities, Future Roadmap, Value Chain, and Major Player Profiles. The report also presents forecasts for VOC Detector investments from 2018 till 2025.

United States is the largest Manufaturer of VOC Detector Market and consumption region in the world, Europe also play important roles in global VOC Detector market while China is fastest growing region. The 126 page VOC Detector report provides tables and figures and analysis the VOC Detector market. The report gives a visual, one-stop breakdown of the leading products, submarkets and market leader’s market revenue forecast as well as analysis and prediction of the VOC Detector market to 2025.

Geographically, this report splits the global market into several key Regions, with sales (K Units), revenue (Million USD), market share and growth rate of VOC Detector for these regions, from 2013 to 2025 (forecast), covering United States, China, Europe, Japan, Southeast Asia, and India.

The report provides an analysis of the global VOC Detector market competition by top manufacturers/players, with VOC Detector sales volume, Price (USD/Unit), revenue (Million USD) and market share for each manufacturer/player.  The top players include the following: REA Systems; Ion Science; Thermo Fisher; Skyeaglee; Omega; and E Instruments.

The report provides an overview of the global market on the basis of product.  This report displays the production, revenue, price, market share and growth rate of each type, primarily split into the following types of detectors:
PID and Metal-oxide Semiconductor.   The report also breaks down the global market based on application as follows:  Environmental Site Surveying; Industrial Hygiene; and HazMat/Homeland Security.

RAE Systems Gas Detector

Environmental Industry M&A in 2018

Environmental Business International, Inc. (EBJ) recently published the 2018 Environmental Industry Mergers and Acquisitions.  The book provides an in-depth analysis of the mergers and acquisitions (M&A’s) that have occurred in the environmental industry in 2018.  Included in the publication are discussions on Stantec’s additions in the UK, Australia and New Zealand along with cultural fit in employee-ownership model at Golder.

The publication states that experts are calling 2018 as the “strongest year we have seen in this decade” with respect to M&A’s in the environment industry. According to the findings in the publication, M&A activity is at record levels and is up 20% over 2017. Some experts assert that Merger & Acquisition activity may be cresting in 2018, but many experts and deal-makers see scope for continued pace. Generally optimistic outlooks drive investment strategies of companies, private equity firms and corporate acquirers, but acquirers and sellers keep their correction contingency plans close at hand.

According the findings in the report, analysts, management consultants and investment bankers report that multiple factors are aligned to continue the strong pace of M&A and high valuations,

Exhibits in this 2018 Environmental Industry Mergers and Acquisitions edition of EBJ include:

  • Consolidation of U.S. C&E Industry 1990-2017
  • Top 10 U.S. Remediation Firms 2000-2016 (Gross Revenues in $mil)
  • Share of Top Companies in U.S. C&E Industry 2000-2017
  • Top 5 & 10 U.S. Environmental C&E Firms 1995-2017(Gross Environmental C&E Revenues in $mil)
  • A Decade of US M&A Activity in the AEC Industry
  • 2007-2018 Interstate M&A Deal Flow in AEC
  • 2018 Year-to-Date Heat Map of Regional AEC M&A Activity
  • Influence of Publicly-Traded Buyers in AEC M&A, 2007-2018
  • Influence of Private Equity in AEC M&A, 2013-2018
  • Most Prolific Buyers (2011 – YTD 2018)
  • Several revenue history and acquisition lists for profiled companies
  • Levels of Interest That Help Determine Value in AE Firms
  • U.S. M&A Activity in Environmental and Industrial Services: 2009-2018
  • M&A Activity in Environmental Services: Special Waste & Environmental Engineering & Consulting

For more information on the environmental C&E industry, visit Reports & DataPacks page.

Ontario construction groups launch video series on excess soil management

In southern Ontario, the management and use of excess soil is a growing issue.  There has long been concerns of unscrupulous players wrongly classifying contaminated soil as excess soil and managing it incorrectly.  Likewise, there has been long-standing concerns expressed by those wanting to do the right thing of ambiguous and uncertain rules with respect to determining what is excess soil and how to manage it.  As a result, honest industry participants end up hauling excess soil to landfill that could have otherwise been utilized for useful purposes.

According to data compiled by the the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO), Ontario’s  construction market generates almost 26 million cubic metres of excess construction soil every year.  About $2 billion is spent annually to manage excess soil – which comes from civil infrastructure projects such as transit, roads, bridges, sewers, watermains and other utilities.  Even though most municipal roadways contain only minor amounts of salt from winter road treatment, large quantities of soil are often hauled up to 100 kilometres away to designated dump sites, rather than being reused on site or at other nearby construction sites.

“Clean excess soil can be more responsibly managed through better upfront planning,” says Andy Manahan, executive director of the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO). “That’s why we co-produced a three-part video series to increase awareness that there are alternatives to the ‘dig, haul long distances and dump’ approach.”

RCCAO teamed up with the Greater Toronto Sewer and Watermain Contractors Association (GTSWCA) to produce this video series to inform the public, government and industry on the benefits of using best management practices. It’s called “The Real Dirt on Dirt: Solutions for Construction Soil Management.”

There are a lot of trucks on the road travelling 60 to 100 kilometres to dump excess soil as a waste material – and that is completely wrong, says Giovanni Cautillo, executive director of GTSWCA.

“It’s not a waste – it’s a reusable resource,” Cautillo says. “When municipalities provide guidance to contractors about where soil from local infrastructure projects can be reused, the costs of handling and disposing of soil can be dramatically reduced. Wherever possible, soil should be reused onsite, but if this is not possible, having an approved reuse site within a close distance saves taxpayers money.”

When best management practices are used, there are fewer trucks travelling long distances, causing less wear and tear to the roads – and less traffic congestion. Fewer trucks on the road reduces greenhouse gas emissions, creating a cleaner, healthier environment.

The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) is currently reviewing draft regulations to help improve ways to manage soil on building and infrastructure projects across the province. Manahan says that “a multi-ministry approach – environment, municipal affairs, transportation, infrastructure and others – will also help to achieve a more coordinated effort.”

CHAR Announces Successful Commissioning of Biocarbon Facility

Andrew White, CEO of CHAR Technologies Ltd.

CHAR Technologies Ltd. (“CHAR”) (YES – TSXV) recently announced that it has successfully commissioned its biocarbon production facility.  CHAR creates two types of biocarbon, an activated charcoal “SulfaCHAR” and a solid biofuel (bio-coal) “CleanFyre.”  At full capacity, the facility will be capable of producing up to 5 tonnes per day of biocarbon.

“Successful commissioning is a very significant milestone for CHAR,” said Andrew White, CEO of CHAR. “We are now able to produce commercial quantities of SulfaCHAR, as well as enough CleanFyre to test as part of our project with ArcelorMittal Dofasco and Walker Environmental.”

The completion of commissioning is the next milestone in CHAR’s Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) project.  Upon acceptance of the milestone report by SDTC, the next progress payment can be processed.

CleanFyre is a carbon neutral solid biofuel, and through its implementation will allow users to significantly reduce their GHG emissions.  SulfaCHAR is a zero-waste activated charcoal, with application in the desulfurization of renewable natural gas.  Both are made from low-value materials, including anaerobic digestate and wood-based by-products.

About CHAR

CHAR Technologies Ltd. is a cleantech development and services company, specializing in biocarbon development (activated charcoal ‘SulfaCHAR’ and solid biofuel ‘CleanFyre’) and custom equipment for industrial air and water treatment, and providing services in environmental management, site investigation and remediation, engineering, and resource efficiency.

CHAR Pyrolysis Unit, pre-installation and commissioning (Photo Credit: CHAR)

Insight into the Hazardous Waste Management Industry – A Profile of Clean Harbors Facilities

by David Nguyen – Staff Writer

Clean Harbors is a hazardous waste management company operating across North America. Their location in Mississauga is a hazardous waste terminal and transfer station, receiving, handling, and transporting flammable solids destined to the U.S. for incineration. Non-flammable solids and liquid hazardous waste is sent to their facility in Lambton, Ontario. The Lambton facility includes a hazardous waste landfill and a liquid hazardous waste incinerator, with some facilities using machines to help with their odour control while trying to improve the air quality.

Clean Harbors coordinates hazardous waste management solutions across the Canada-U.S. border with the help of something similar to this waste management software which could help keep things in order. It is makes business sense for the company to transport flammable solids that are hazardous to its U.S. incinerator instead of having a facility in Canada. “Liquid injection incinerators are a lot cheaper,” says Mike Parker, Vice President, Canadian Environmental Compliance. “There really isn’t a strong enough market to support [hazardous solid incineration] in Canada.”

Mississauga Site Activities

Carriers bring the hazardous waste to the transfer station, where the manifests and documentation are reviewed to ensure that the facility is permitted to receive the material. This is different to regular waste removal companies such as BestDealDumpsters.com who get rid of all types of household waste. Receiving times are typically planned ahead of time to prevent surges of shipments on site. Once off loaded, the waste is sampled to confirm the material profile noted in the manifest and then staged for further processing. The entire staging area is built over sealed drains leading to a blind sump to prevent any spills from leaving the site. “All the liquids from our sumps, even if it’s just rain water… get put into tanks and go down for incineration,” says Parker.

Every drum the facility receives has its contents verified, sampled, and tested. Samples are analyzed for PCBs, pH, ignitability/ flashpoint, sulfide, chloride, oxidation, cyanide, and water reactivity in order to get a profile for the waste, after which a code is attached to the drum to indicate its destination and disposal.

Staging Area (photo by David Nguyen)

This information is stored in their management system that tracks the inventory at their various facilities, including the shipping information and profiles of all items. The information is removed for approval to be received on site. The system also tracks the manifests for the generator, carrier, receiver, and the ministry, internal inspections, and monthly reports to be sent to the ministry.

After sorting and sampling, the waste is safely sorted into various streams for consolidation, bulking, or blending.

“It has to be in the same waste class to mix and match. We can’t mix something flammable with something non-flammable,” says Parker.

“Even if they are in the same waste class, we take samples from each drum, mix it together, and if nothing happens, we can do it” says Erica Carabott, Facility Compliance Manager.

Liquid waste is bulked in tank farms until there is enough to fill a taker truck to be sent to Lambton for incineration. Solid waste is loaded into pits where the material is shredded up, bulked, and mixed with a solidifying agent to take up any free liquids in the solid waste streams.

Lambton Facility Activities

Many of the materials received at the Mississauga Transfer station are transported to the Clean Harbors Lambton facility offers services including waste neutralization, incineration of hazardous waste, inorganic pre-treatment of hazardous waste, thermal desorption of solid and sludge, and landfill disposal of hazardous waste.

Liquid waste is blended in a controlled neutralization process at the acid and alkali plant before being fed to the incinerator. The liquid waste injection incinerator operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, consisting of a fix unit incinerator, a semi-dry spray dryer absorber, and a four-compartment baghouse. The site capacity is about 100 000 tonnes per year and can process pumpable material that does not contain PCBs, pathogens, radioactives, and cylinders.

Lambton Incinerator (Photo Credit: Clean Harbors)

The landfill is situated in natural clay, and accepts a variety of hazardous waste excluding explosives, PCBs, radioactive, pathological wastes, or compressed gasses. Due to the Land Disposal Restriction prohibiting the disposal of untreated hazardous waste on land, Clean Harbors has an inorganic solid pre-treatment processing plant which mixes inorganic waste (primarily metal bearing solids) with reagents to prevent the metals from becoming leachable.

Furthermore, a thermal desorption unit is used to condense and recover water and organics from organic solid waste. The waste is fed into a kiln that heats the waste to 400-450 degrees Celsius to strip the organics from the waste. The vapours are condensed to remove liquid organics during the process, with the remaining emissions vented to the incinerator. The residual solids are then tested for any remaining organics or metals, and then disposed of in the hazardous landfill on site.

“You can understand why it takes a lot of money to treat the stuff in the landfill. It cooks it for about a half hour – that’s a lot of heat and a lot of money” says Parker. “With testing at the front and testing at the end,” adds Carabott .

Clean Harbor’s Lambton Hazardous Waste Landfill (Courtesy: Clean Harbors)

These facilities and processes allow Clean Harbors to work with their clients to develop cost effective solutions to handling and disposing of hazardous waste materials throughout the Great Lakes Basin in both Canada and the United States. In addition, Clean Harbors conducts regular outreach programs with the local community regarding the safe operations and reporting conducted at the Lambton facility.

Special thanks to Mike Parker and Erica Carabott for taking the time to speak with me and show me around the Mississauga Transfer station.

B.C. spill response plans in limbo after Trans Mountain decision

The recent Federal Court of Appeal delaying approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project coast has put the B.C. spill response in limbo.  The proposed pipeline expansion project would see an oil pipeline expansion from Alberta to the British Columbia coast.  The Federal Court of Appeal denied approval of the project pending greater consultation with indigenous communities and greater need for mitigating environmental risks.

The oil spill response plan, as part of the Trans Mountain Pipeline project, is to build six new spill response bases along B.C.’s coast that would be the home port of 43 new spill response vessels and 120 new crew members.

Map of proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Configuration.

The oil spill response plan is to be funded, in part, from a $150 million that is to be collected by Western Canada Marine Response Corp. (WCMR Corp.) from tolls for use of the expanded pipeline.  WCMR Corp. is an industry-funded organization tasked with responding to and cleaning up spills along B.C.’s coast.

When the project gets approval for construction is uncertain.  The federal government is considering a number of options including appealing the Court decision and enacting legislation.

The delay in building additional pipeline capacity from the Alberta oil sands has resulted ins an increase in rail shipment of oil.  More than 200,000 barrels of oil are now carried by rail in Canada each day, up from less than 30,000 in 2012.

In 2017, Canadian crude oil supply grew to 4.2 million barrels a day — exceeding total pipeline capacity leaving Western Canada. As a result, a record-setting volume of oilpatch output is now moving by rail to refineries in the U.S.

If the proposed spill response enhancements are built, the response to an oil spill on Canada’s west coast will be reduced from six hours to two hours for Vancouver Harbour and down from 18-72 hours to six hours for the rest of the coast.

The six bases would have been built in Vancouver Harbour, near Annacis Island in the Fraser River, in Nanaimo, Port Alberni, the Saanich Peninsula and Beecher Bay near Sooke.

 

Mesothelioma Awareness: Asbestos and Occupational Safety

by Sarah Wallace, Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center

For many years, the natural mineral known as asbestos was used in constructing buildings, insulation (check local prices), roofing, and homes. Asbestos is heavily regulated in the United States today, but many people are still exposed daily to asbestos containing materials (ACMs) that still exist in buildings, structures, and homes. During demolition, DIY, or renovation projects, asbestos can become friable and people are then susceptible to inhaling the small fibers. When asbestos becomes lodged in the body, specifically in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart, it can lead to lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Even though the use of asbestos has decreased dramatically in the United States since the late 20th century, mesothelioma is still the leading occupational cancer. This is because the disease can take up to 50 years to develop, and those who were exposed to asbestos prior to the 1980s are still being diagnosed today. On top of that, professionals who work in different industries that have a history of asbestos use, such as construction, manufacturing, and shipyard work, are still at risk of exposure they may come into contact with materials and products made before regulations were put in place. Due to the microscopic size of asbestos fibers and ambiguity around where the toxin could have been used in the past, it’s important for workers to stay educated on where asbestos might be hiding and what safety precautions to take on the job.

Occupations most at risk and how to stay safe:

Construction Workers– Because asbestos was used heavily in the construction of homes and other buildings, many construction workers have been exposed to asbestos, and they are still at risk for exposure. With ACMs still existing in buildings, approximately 1 million construction workers could still be vulnerable to asbestos annually. Today, professionals in the construction industry are at risk for first-hand exposure more than any other profession. Workers in multiple trades including roofers, carpenters, electricians, and masonry should be aware of asbestos as they work. Making sure site security is tight with security cameras can improve your ability to reduce the number of people who will be exposed by the asbestos by ensuring unauthorized personnel is kept away from asbestos.

In order for workers to protect themselves, professionals in these fields should take the precaution of wearing the proper masks during any type of construction project. Understanding the age of the building and what asbestos looks like is also important because this could help workers know the risks associated with a certain structure, making them less vulnerable to exposure. Keep in mind that asbestos can exist in a variety of products including drywall, shingles, ceiling tiles, and insulation, so even those participating in DIY projects should be aware of where their health and safety could be at risk.

Firefighters– Asbestos fibers can be released into the air when a building or home catches on fire. This puts first responders like firefighters in danger of inhaling the toxin in the process of putting out a fire. This leaves firefighters at risk to develop peritoneal mesothelioma, which originates in the lining of the lungs after being inhaled. While the initial danger to firefighters is the fire itself, even after the flames are put out, asbestos could be present in the air as the structure cools off. Firefighter equipment is designed to keep out hazardous materials like asbestos, but many people do not understand that certain risks persist even after the initial fire is put out. Asbestos fibers can attach to clothing, leading to the possibility of second-hand exposure for those who might come in contact with any type of clothing used at the scene of the fire.

In order to limit exposure to asbestos particles, firefighters should wear a certified self-containing breathing apparatus (SCBA) mask that covers the mouth and nose in order to protect themselves while on the job. They should also keep masks on even after the fire has been put out while debris is cooling, because asbestos fibers could still be in the air. To eliminate risks of exposure for family, friends, and colleagues, firefighters should also remove their gear before leaving the scene and wash off before returning home.

Shipyard Workers– At one time, asbestos exposure was a large risk for laborers and those employed on ships. Due to the mineral’s strong and heat resistant attributes, was often used for things like boilers and steam pipes on Navy ships and shipyards. As a result, many shipyard laborers were exposed to asbestos, especially if they worked as electricians, painters, machinists, or “asbestos insulators.” This is one of the reasons veterans make up about 30 percent of mesothelioma diagnoses in the United States.

Shipyard workers are less likely to be exposed first-hand to asbestos today, but anyone working with older shipbuilding materials or piping should be aware of the possible risks and wear the appropriate masks to limit inhaling fibers. Workers who have been exposed in the past should let their primary care doctor know and stay up-to-date on appointments. Symptoms of mesothelioma specifically can often go undiagnosed because they are similar to symptoms of the flu, manifesting as a cough at first and eventually leading to shortness of breath and fever. If you know that you have been exposed, paying careful attention to your health and communicating with your doctor could lead to an early diagnosis, improving prognosis and life expectancy.

Preventing asbestos-related disease

If you come across asbestos on the job, contacting a professional who knows how to handle the material will be the best way to move forward. No amount of asbestos exposure is safe, and handling the mineral should be taken seriously before proceeding with a project. Mesothelioma is a deadly but preventable cancer, if the correct steps are taken by employers and employees. Although asbestos has been heavily regulated over time, there is still not a ban on the material in the United States. Taking the time to check labels before using any products and educating others in your industry on how to protect themselves are sure ways to help bring an end to mesothelioma and other health issues caused by asbestos.

If your health has been affected by your work surroundings or you’ve sustained an injury on the job, you may need to undergo a functional capacity evaluation to prove that you are not in a fit state to continue work. For more information on this, click here.