GENERAL QUESTIONS ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTANTS
How Do I Find the Right Environmental Consultant?
When it comes to managing impacted materials at your facility, hiring the right environmental consultant is not a decision to be taken lightly. Contamination is a matter of worker safety and government compliance; and, choosing the wrong remediation consultant could result in human health complications and hefty fines.
Not all environmental consulting companies are created equal. Each company has its own areas of expertise, capabilities, available services and pricing. So, it can be difficult to determine which one is right for you. Many consultants offer a variety of remediation services. But, in reality, not all of them have the experience or knowledge to safely, efficiently and cost-effectively work on your specific site and project. Although price is often the deciding factor when hiring a remediation consultant, it is important to remember that a few saved dollars today with the wrong consultant can result in huge, unforeseen costs in the future. Therefore, it is most important that you are comfortable with your decision and confident that the work will be done properly.
The best way to make the right decision is to ask the right questions. To help you find the right consultant for your environmental project, we have listed a few important questions that you should ask potential consultants below. Although not every question may apply to your unique situation, this list will help you to get a good idea of their commitment to your project, experience and pricing. Keep in mind that the company you hire will be working for you. So, don’t be afraid to ask the questions that will give you the answers you need.
Finding the Right Consultant - Questions About Experience:
- How many projects have you worked on involving my specific contaminant of concern?
- How many of these projects have you successfully closed?
- Of these projects that were closed, how long did the process take?
- Do you cater to a specific industry?
- How much experience do you have as a remediation consultant in my industry?
- Which remediation services can you directly provide and which will you subcontract?
Finding the Right Consultant - Questions About Financing:
- How much do you anticipate this project to cost from start to finish?
- For the total costs, how did you arrive at this number?
- Why are these costs different from your competitors?
- What will be my out-of-pocket costs for this project?
- Over what period of time will these costs be incurred?
- Are there alternative sources of funding other than just my company?
Finding the Right Consultant - Questions About Commitment:
- How much time should this project take to finish?
- What will be your level of involvement with state and/or federal agency communication and negotiation?
- Are you willing to back up your assessment and offer lump sum pricing?
- Are you willing to work out a pricing plan that I can reasonably afford?
- Are you willing to work around my schedule to minimize business interruptions?
Are PCBs a Concern in the General Construction Industry?
Because of their chemical stability, fire-resistance and insulating properties, PCBs were added to a wide variety of building materials from the 1930s until the late 1970s. Although the manufacturing and use of PCBs was banned by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 1979, they still have an impact on current construction projects where demolition and waste disposal are an issue.
While the use of building materials with PCBs (at concentrations equal or greater than 50 ppm) is prohibited, there are no specific regulations addressing building materials that are already in use. Therefore, testing, reporting and/or removing PCB-impacted building materials are not expressly required as long as they are left in place and in good working order (for example, impacted paint is not peeling or caulk is not cracking). The construction industry is impacted by PCB regulations when renovation and demolition processes result in disturbing and disposing these building materials that may contain PCBs. As such, TSCA regulations place specific requirements on the proper characterization, handling, removal, transport and disposal of PCB-impacted building materials. These requirements significantly affect the cost and schedule of construction projects.
What are Some Common PCB-Containing Materials in Construction?
PCBs were a common additive in paints by the 1950s for water and chemical resistance, elasticity and durability. Added to paints at concentrations between 5% and 10%, PCB paints were most commonly used on the surfaces of industrial equipment, furnaces and masonry walls.
Containing as high as 20% PCBs, caulking was another building material that commonly contained PCBs. PCBs are often found in high concentrations in the expansion joints of masonry buildings and concrete structures that were built between the 1940s and the 1970s. However, PCB caulking was also used in window and door joints. Additional building materials
- Electrical equipment (i.e. transformers, capacitors, voltage regulators, etc.)
- Coatings and Sealants
- Fluorescent Light Ballasts
- cable insulation
- roofing and siding materials
- insulation materials (such as fiberglass, wool felt and plastic foam);
- adhesives and tapes
- floor finish
ASBESTOS CONTAINING MATERIAL (ACM)
What Does Asbestos Look Like?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. Unlike most mined minerals, asbestos crystals form into long, thin fibers that are divided into two groups: serpentine and amphibole. Serpentine minerals have a sheet or layer structure while amphiboles have a chain-like structure. The most common type is chrysotile asbestos which is part of the serpentine group. Chysotile is commonly named “white asbestos” and accounts for approximately 95% of the asbestos found in buildings in the United States.
Because of its fibrous characteristics, asbestos can be woven into many products to increase strength and durability and to resist heat and chemical corrosion. Although you probably will not come across asbestos in its raw form, many building materials have been historically made with asbestos containing material at generally 1%-30% asbestos. Some examples of suspect asbestos containing materials include: fireproofing material, floor tile and mastic, cement products, window glazing, roofing materials, wall caulking and wall board.
What Hazards are Associated with Asbestos?
To be a significant health risk, asbestos fibers must be inhaled into the lungs. Asbestos inhalation can cause a buildup of scar-like tissue in the lungs called asbestosis, a fatal malignant tumor of the membrane lining the cavity of the lung known as mesothelioma and other diseases such as lung cancer. Latency periods for many diseases could be anywhere from 10-30 years. Epidemiologic evidence has shown that all asbestos fibers of different quantities and exposure durations can cause these diseases. Furthermore, asbestos may enhance the carcinogenic affects of other materials. Any additional exposure to asbestos caused by living or working in buildings potentially containing asbestos should be avoided.
Because asbestos fibers appear to be ubiquitous, nearly everyone has been exposed to some extent. Most of the information on the health effects of exposure to asbestos has been derived from studies of workers exposed to asbestos in the course of their occupation. Asbestos fiber concentrations for such workers are many times higher than those encountered by the general public. As a result, asbestos workers will have a much higher incidence of asbestos-related disease than people who live or work in buildings with asbestos containing materials. Unless an asbestos containing material is unknowingly exposed or damaged, the risks to the general public are minimal.
Who Can Collect Asbestos Samples in My State?
The only individuals who can legally conduct asbestos inspections are certified asbestos inspectors who are certified in the state at which the inspection is taking place. Asbestos inspectors identify suspect asbestos containing materials (ACM) throughout a structure and use proper methods collect and handle various ACMs. Generally, an easy-to-read summary report of the findings is issued after the results are returned.
Why Would I Need to Have an Asbestos Inspection Completed?
There are many circumstances that would necessitate an asbestos inspection. Most asbestos inspections are completed when a building is planned for demolition or renovation. In these cases, building materials have a high potential to be damaged and suspect asbestos containing materials (ACM) must be identified before work can begin. If ACM is exposed or damaged, there is an elevated risk of exposure to workers and to the general public. Asbestos demolitions and renovations fall under the National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) regulations and require a certified demolition crew and proper notification before beginning work.
Additionally, asbestos inspections can be conducted to inform a potential buyer of the ACM risks at a property before moving ahead with a purchase. Some inspections are conducted based on a recently damaged material that may contain asbestos. Lastly, based on the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), public and non-profit schools must undergo an asbestos inspection on a regular basis in order to manage ACMs in-place.
How Long Does an Asbestos Inspection Take and How Many Samples are Collected During an Asbestos Inspection?
The duration of time and number of asbestos samples collected in an inspection can vary greatly from building to building; however, some assumptions can be made based on building type, size, and age. Residential house inspections typically take no longer than one standard workday, can be completed by one individual, and commonly consist of 20-40 asbestos samples. Most commercial buildings (1-2 stories) can be completed in one standard workday with two individuals. Generally, commercial buildings have many homogenous areas so asbestos sampling can be minimized. Most commercial building inspections consist of 50-80 asbestos samples. Industrial facilities tend to have a higher potential for asbestos containing materials and can be much larger in scale. It is almost always advised to have at least two individuals present for industrial facility inspections. These inspections can take anywhere from a few days to weeks and inspectors may collect hundreds of samples. Lastly, the age of a building may impact the scale of an inspection. Generally, structures built before the 1980s have a higher potential for asbestos and can add as much as 20-50% more samples to the inspection.
How Can I Maintain Asbestos Materials in My House?
Friable asbestos containing materials (ACM), those that can be pulverized with hand pressure, are the highest concern when it comes to potential exposure in your house. Friable ACM can be maintained in place utilizing encapsulation. This involves applying a thick layer of an encapsulant, such as a latex paint, that binds the surface of the material together and prevents it from breaking apart. Constant vibrations and wind erosion can play a role in the breakdown of ACM overtime. Avoid keeping fans and machines such as dish washers and dryers out of proximity of the ACM. When this cannot be avoided, removal may be the best option.
LEAD-BASED PAINT (LBP)
Can I Identify Leaded Paint Without Professional Help?
Although there is no sure way to identify leaded paint without professional testing, there are several factors that you can rely upon to give you an accurate estimate. The first item to consider is the age of the paint and/or building. Most buildings constructed before 1970 used lead-based paint on the walls, doorways, stairwells, and baseboards. Buildings as late as the 1990s could contain lead-based paint to some degree. The next factor to consider is the texture of the suspect paint. If the paint appears to be thick and chip-like when it is removed, then there is a good chance it contains lead. One term often used to describe this is texture is “alligatoring”, which occurs when the chips of paint start to pop up and crack similar to an alligator’s skin. Although not always possible, contacting a previous owner or home builder could shed some light on the history of the structure and some of the paints used. Lastly, consider purchasing a home test kit at the local hardware store. Home test kits are not always reliable; however, it may be all you need depending on your situation.
What are the hazards associated with leaded paint?
Lead-based paint is most dangerous when it is deteriorating in the manner of cracking, chipping, peeling, bubbling from water, or chalking. Routes of exposure are ingestion and inhalation. Children under the age of 6 and pregnant women (invitro exposure) are at the greatest risk. If ingested, even in very low amounts, lead can cause damage to the brain and nervous system potentially resulting in learning disabilities and even mental retardation. Other effects include slowed growth, kidney damage, headaches, hearing disabilities, nerve damage, and bone marrow problems.
What is the best way to mitigate lead-based paint inside a building?
The easiest way to prevent exposure to lead-based paint is to simply paint over it. This is only a viable option if the lead-based paint is in good condition. Another option is to cover the painted surface with a new surface such as drywall. In some cases, the condition of the paint is too deteriorated to consider anything other than removal. If removal is the only option, consider hiring a professional to properly remove and dispose of the lead-based paint.
Is lead-based paint a liability when selling my property?
Lead-based paint (LBP) liability depends on the intended future use of the building. Potential LBP is generally of little concern with most property transactions; however, if the building is to become a daycare, school or other child-based facility, LBP concern is paramount. Additionally, buildings regulated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have strict guidelines when it comes to LBP. If LBP is significantly deteriorating inside a building, some potential buyers could have hesitancy and may back out or require a cleanup before moving forward. Lead-based paint assessment is specifically excluded from the Phase I Environmental Assessment standards; however, AGES can include this assessment upon request.
What is Radon and why is it a concern in buildings?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is produced from the natural breakdown of the radioactive metals radium, thorium, and strontium in soil, rock, and groundwater. Radon gas enters cracks and other small spaces in a building (usually a basement) and can become concentrated if constant air flow is not present. Acute exposure to radon gas is generally not a concern. Chronic exposure, usually from frequenting an area with concentrated radon gas, can be detrimental to your health.
What are the hazards associated with radon gas?
The largest hazard associated with chronic exposure to radon gas is lung cancer. Radon gas exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, behind only smoking tobacco. Chronic exposure to radon gas can also cause the following symptoms: persistent cough, hoarseness, chest pain, frequent chest infections, loss of appetite, and coughing up blood.
How do I know if radon gas is a problem in the building?
Radon gas is undetectable to the human senses. It is of most concern in basements, cellars, or other rooms that contact the ground. If you believe you have a radon gas issue, a radon test should be completed. Radon test kits can be purchased from a local hardware store; however, they have limited accuracy. If the building is located in an area with high incidents of radon, it is best to hire a professional to conduct a radon test. Radon testing is usually performed by a professionals. For best results, radon testing equipment must sit undisturbed with minimal airflow in the testing location for several days.
What is the best way to mitigate radon gas inside a building
The best way to mitigate radon gas is to have a professional install a radon mitigation system. This entails the installation of a PVC piping system with a specific type of fan that pulls the air out of the enclosure and vents it above the ceiling of the house. Most systems are 99% effective. For a quick fix to a potential radon gas issue, start by using fans or other air movers to circulate as much air as possible in the concerned area. Open windows and doors to vent as much as possible.
Is radon a liability when buying or selling a property?
Radon is a concern to a potential buyer or seller of property. If an inspection reveals elevated radon levels, the issues can usually be corrected however the cost is dependent on the size of the building and existing ventilation system. The existence of radon is usually a reflection of the region, and not the structure itself. Radon assessment is specifically excluded from Phase I Environmental Assessment standards. AGES includes a short assessment of the regional radon characteristics and average radon test numbers per the zip code when performing each assessment.