Two recent windstorms have left thousands of Spokane-area residents with damaged roofs and eaves.
As homeowners begin the work of hiring contractors or doing the repairs themselves, they need to be on the alert for asbestos in attics, ceilings and roofing materials, say officials at the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency.
In response to the magnitude of the damage from the Nov. 17 storm, the agency has waived some of the fees and waiting periods associated with asbestos abatement work through March 31.
However, homeowners who are hiring contractors still need to get an asbestos survey done by a certified inspector before any construction begins. Homeowners doing their own work should consider getting a certified inspection done as well, agency officials said.
“The best way to protect yourself is to know what you’re dealing with,” said Russ Neumiller, a staff member at the SRCAA. “A homeowner making their own determination may miss something, or not dispose of materials properly.”
Many building materials contain asbestos fibers, which are a health hazard when they’re released into the air. Inhalation of asbestos has been linked to lung cancer and other diseases.
During a roofing project, contractors or homeowners could encounter asbestos in tar paper or felt used underneath shingles, Neumiller said. Some popcorn ceilings contain asbestos, and many of Spokane’s older homes have vermiculite, an attic insulation that contains asbestos.
The age of the home isn’t an indicator of whether asbestos will be present, said Lisa Woodard, an agency spokeswoman.
“There’s not a cutoff date for asbestos,” she said.
Unlike lead-based paint, which was banned in 1978, some building products are still made with asbestos, which is valued for its heat resistance and strength. That’s why it’s important to get a survey done, which includes sampling the materials, Woodard said. In Washington, under a law that took effect in 2014, building products containing asbestos must be labeled.
Prices for asbestos surveys vary, said Travis Trent, one of the owners of Fulcrum Environmental Consulting, one of the companies in the area that provide the surveys.
In the Spokane area, homeowners could expect to pay in the $200-to-$500 range for an asbestos inspection on a small- to mid-size construction project, Trent said. For a large home with extensive reconstruction, prices could range up to $1,500. Often, insurance policies will cover part of the inspection cost.
Finding vermiculite in the attics and walls of homes and commercial buildings is fairly common in the area, Trent said.
More than 70 percent of the vermiculite insulation sold in the United States through 1990 came from a mine near Libby, Montana, which also had a naturally occurring asbestos deposit. As a result, all of the vermiculite used for insulation is assumed to be contaminated with asbestos, Woodard said. Fortunately, the gray-gold material, which looks like fool’s gold, is easy to recognize, she said.
Vermiculite has low concentrations of asbestos, but the danger comes from the lightweight material becoming airborne. The best policy is not to disturb it, which causes the asbestos concentrations in the air to rise quickly, Trent said.
“What you don’t want to see is the fibers getting into the carpets and the air ducts, where they would keep recirculating throughout the house,” Neumiller said.
For most asbestos-related diseases – such as lung cancer and asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs – the risk increases with repeated exposure, Trent said. However, for mesothelioma, a rare cancer in the lining of the lungs, “even a single exposure can be a source of concern and risk,” he said. “That’s the reason it’s so heavily regulated.”
“We know asbestos is cancer-causing, and we know there are no safe levels,” Woodard said.
Trent’s business is one of 29 companies listed on the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency’s website that provide asbestos surveys and/or demolition services. He said Fulcrum Environmental Consulting hasn’t received any windstorm-related calls. That’s probably not a good sign for people complying with asbestos regulations, he said.
“It would certainly make me think there is quite a bit of work being done without asbestos inspections,” Trent said.
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