Dust to dust: Workers take precautions to avoid hazards

Implosion of old City Hall set for Sunday


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Over the past several months, construction crews have spent countless hours preparing the old Jacksonville City Hall building for an implosion slated for Jan. 20.

One of the first things stripped from the structure was asbestos. The naturally occurring mineral is commonly found in insulation, flooring, ceiling tiles and roofing, especially in older buildings.

Asbestos has been linked to lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis and is most dangerous when it is broken down into small, dust-like fibers that are easily inhaled.  

“If you keep the material wet, the asbestos doesn’t get in the air and it’s not breathed, so, it’s not a threat to human health and or the environment," said President of Environeering Timothy Rudolph.

According to the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center, the mineral is banned in 55 countries but is still allowed across 70 percent of the world, including the United States. 

An abatement professional cleared the city hall building of asbestos last year. Experts say as long as all procedures are followed during removal, there should be no concern of any fibers going airborne during an implosion.

Risks associated with asbestos

Asbestos is always an environmental concern with any major demolition due to the propensity for it to be broken down into small particles that disperse in the air. If asbestos-containing materials remain intact, they may never be a risk.

Today when buildings that were built during the height of asbestos production are demolished or renovated, there is additional occupational risk for those involved in that process.

When asbestos is inhaled or ingested, it can become attached to the lining of several organs in the body. Asbestos fibers can irritate the organ linings over time, which can lead to a cancer called mesothelioma, as well as lung cancer and a less serious disease known as asbestosis.

Most commonly, mesothelioma occurs within the lining of the lungs, abdomen and heart. Mesothelioma is an unfortunately aggressive and deadly cancer, which is why regulation of the mineral was and continues to be important. The typical prognosis for a mesothelioma patient is between six to 16 months depending on what stage the disease is diagnosed in. The problem with diagnosis is that mesothelioma can take anywhere from 20-50 years to develop in the body after initial exposure. That fact, along with the non-specific symptoms, make the disease difficult to diagnose.

How a building is safely cleared of asbestos ahead of demolition

Since asbestos is still present in many older buildings, having an abatement professional clear the material is the best way to avoid exposure. Asbestos inspectors generally first look at a home or building and take samples to test for the presence of asbestos.

After testing is done, an inspector can recommend abatement if necessary. There are strict laws around how asbestos can be removed and who can remove it. Local legislators and committees oversee the certification of abatement professionals to ensure that only those well-trained in abatement are attempting to remove the material.

During the abatement or encapsulation (sealing and repairing an asbestos-containing material), the area should be marked as hazardous and heating and air-conditioning units should be disabled. The ACMs should then be wetted down to avoid any airborne fibers, and HEPA vacuums should then be used to clean up remaining debris. All abatement professional should be certified in the safety procedures and must provide a detailed, written record of where the asbestos was found and removed.

What is the concern with asbestos when related to implosions/demolitions?

There is always a concern that asbestos can become airborne during an implosion or demolition of an older building. If asbestos fibers are airborne, it can take 48 to 72 hours for the fibers to fall in a still room. In a room with air currents, the fibers may stay in the air much longer.

There is a large occupational risk for workers, which is why mesothelioma is still the leading occupational cancer. This is why it is so important for asbestos inspectors and abatement experts to work in a building before embarking on a demolition or renovation.

Can you really get rid of all of it?

If the removal or encapsulation is being done by a certified abatement professional and all procedures are followed, asbestos can be completely cleared from the building. There are laws in place that ensure the most qualified people are taking on these projects because of the dangers of exposure.


About the Authors: