“Asbestos Still in Style” for Beacon Media newspapers

February 2008

Asbestos is a mineral fiber found in older homes that caused a stir in the 80s and early 90s with popcorn ceiling paranoia, but the problem is far from over local homeowners have found.

“When I go out to a Pasadena home—not a condo or other structure—99 percent of the time I find some sort of asbestos,” said registered environmental assessor and asbestos consultant Donald Short.

“Within a given year, over 50 percent of the homes I remodel or demolish have asbestos,” said Sanctuary Construction president and general contractor Craig Tozer, who works in the Los Angeles area.

Tozer has built about half a dozen homes in the Pasadena region and most of them had asbestos.

“Up until the mid 70s asbestos was being used,” said Tozer. “A lot of the homes in Pasadena are fairly old so there’s a good chance that there’s asbestos in either the roofing mastics (glue)—typically you’ll find them there—or in the linoleum floors, stucco or plaster.”

There are no immediate symptoms from asbestos exposure, according to the EPA, but there is a long-term risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma (a cancer of the chest and abdominal linings), and asbestosis (irreversible lung scarring that can be fatal).

“The most dangerous asbestos fibers are too small to be visible and after they are inhaled, they can remain and accumulate in the lungs,” said the EPA. “Most people with asbestos-related diseases were exposed to elevated concentrations on the job; some developed disease from exposure to clothing and equipment brought home from job sites.”

The EPA said that usually it is best to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone because generally it will not release asbestos fiber, but Tozer said nothing is 100 percent guaranteed.

Preventing the fibers from becoming airborne may require wetting down a surface, which Tozer has seen asbestos abatement companies do, as well as wear masks, seal off rooms with plastic and use exhaust fans that recycle the air out of the room through ducts and filter systems.

Monrovia resident John Foltz suspected his older home had asbestos but never had it tested until two years ago when he began to restore his home to be landmarked.

When Foltz’s suspicions were confirmed and asbestos was found in his home’s transite siding, an asbestos removal company quoted Foltz $10,000 to remove the siding from the house and garage. Due to the high price, Foltz did not have the house’s siding removed until about a month ago for $6000.

“I still have asbestos siding on the garage because I couldn’t afford to have it all done at once so they’re going to come back and do the garage,” said Foltz.

Homes built after the 1970s or 80s may still contain asbestos because they were made with warehouse materials, which Short described as already existing items that contained asbestos and were stored in warehouses. The amount of warehouse materials was higher than anticipated and Short said that those materials were being used until 2000.

“I have inspected houses built after 1990 that have come back positive for asbestos because warehouse materials were used,” said Short.

The Air Quality Management District is the air pollution control agency for all of Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and part of their role is to regulate asbestos.

An Air Quality Management District rule adopted in 1989 that was amended most recently on October 5th 2007 requires properties to be tested for asbestos if they are to be demolished or renovated.

Asbestos inspectors must be certified by the California Occupational Safety and Health Agency and AQMD painstakingly details definitions of various asbestos terms as well as specific guidelines regarding demolition and renovation measures.

“AQMD inspectors may go on random site visits and ask if you have notified the AQMD about the demolition in advance and if the answer is ‘No’ the next question is, ‘Did you have this building tested for asbestos?’ and if that answer is ‘No’ the contractor and the owner can be liable for fairly large fines,” said Tozer. “I have heard up to $100,000.”

Tozer and Short said AQMD is understaffed and Short said many activities fly under the radar because the millions of homes in the Southern California area are monitored by only about eight people, who Short knows by name.

In addition to having a certified asbestos inspector check for asbestos on site, home or business owners can mail or bring in a sample of material to LA Testing, a division of EMSL Analytical, Inc., which has a South Pasadena office.

State regulations say a sample that tests over one percent for asbestos is at the disposal level and exposure level is at one-tenth percent, said EMSL West Coast regional manager Derrick Tanner.

“If you’re over one percent you’re going to have to take some action,” said Tanner, who recommended that customers contact an asbestos consultant as to the results’ implications and actions that may need to be taken.

Asbestos cannot be detected by the naked eye, so if people suspect a building has asbestos, especially if it will be renovated or demolished, they should get it tested.

For some asbestos resources, go to:

EPA: http://www.epa.gov/iedweb00/asbestos.html

AQMD: http://www.aqmd.gov/

LA Testing: http://www.latesting.com/Index.cfm?nav=Home

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