Because many of us grew up in homes containing lead and asbestos, we can sometimes downplay the health hazards these substances can pose to humans and the environment alike. We feel tempted to bypass the rules — demolishing undercover — hoping that no one finds out.
Yes, these substances, once touted as miracle materials for construction, now stir feelings of dread among owners of older apartment structures.
But failure to comply with the law on this matter can not only lead to health risks for workers and tenants alike, there are hefty penalties — even potential jail time — for those who ignore the law.
In a widely publicized case this June, a West Hollywood apartment complex was shut down after a South Coast Air Quality Management District inspector found asbestos at a construction site following an anonymous tip. L.A. fire and hazmat officials formally decontaminated more than 15 residents, who were ordered to vacate the building and leave everything behind, even their cars. A criminal investigation is pending.
In another case, a federal appellate court in Chicago in 2013 upheld a lower court’s 10-year prison sentence for a sprinkler contractor who removed asbestos from piping without the proper training or licensing, and disposed of the material in dumpsters and abandoned farmhouses. EPA Superfund contractors spent more than $47,000 cleaning up the soil and properly disposing of the more than 100 trash bags of asbestos-laden debris.
Figures for 2016 showed that the EPA issued more than 100 federal enforcement actions in that year alone against contractors, landlords and building owners who failed to protect communities and public health from exposure to lead. Fines frequently reached hundreds of thousands of dollars, with one case resulting in a $400,000 penalty.
What Does the Law Require?
Asbestos is a dangerous carcinogen, and exposure to high levels of lead can cause anemia, weakness and kidney and brain damage.
There are many laws regulating the testing and treatment of asbestos, lead and other potential hazardous materials used in older structures, particularly those built prior to 1979.
Whenever asbestos or lead are found, state, local and Environmental Protection Agency offices must be notified. The National Emission Standards of Hazardous Air Pollutants requires that work areas be sealed off and that waste be disposed of at a hazardous materials facility. Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandates strict safety protocols for workers, who are at risk of cancer, kidney and lung problems, even death when exposed.
All of this adds up to significant cost overruns, schedule delays and other problems.
That’s where the choice of a retrofit contractor becomes vitally important.
It Pays to Do Things Right
Selecting the right contractor will not only ensure that laws and safety protocol are followed, it protects building owners and management companies from liabilities associated with the improper handling and disposal of toxic substances.
Generally speaking, a reputable company is going to follow the letter of the law. And, in the rare instance where something is not done right, that company — based on its name and solid reputation in the industry, its licensure and bonded status — is going to assume responsibility for its actions.
A fly-by-night company, perhaps more likely to bypass regulation for the sake of slipping in a lower bid on a project, may not stick around if legal problems arise.
Protect yourself and make sure you select a contractor who will follow the law and do the job right.