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Demolition Crew Asbestos Exposure

Exposure to asbestos is known to cause the development of serious and deadly respiratory diseases and cancers, such as asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma and other conditions. Most asbestos exposure occurs at work.

It used to be that those in shipyards, auto shops and construction sites were the most at risk because asbestos was used in such a wide range of products these industries relied on during the 20th Century. These workers today must still be on high alert, but there is another group that is also now especially endangered: Demolition crews.

At The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, our mesothelioma attorneys in Boston understand that demolition crews are highly vulnerable to asbestos exposure, particularly in this city, which contains so many older structures.

Older residences, commercial buildings and roadway infrastructure often contain some amount of the toxic fibers in certain elements.

Demolition and renovation crews are especially at risk, however, because these fibers are most dangerous when they are airborne. The process of renovation and demolition disturbs fibers that may have otherwise been sealed or encapsulated.

What is Asbestos Exposure?

Asbestos exposure happens when a person breathes in or swallows asbestos fibers when the material is friable, or in a state wherein it easily crumbles.

Although most people are exposed to very small traces of asbestos in the outside air, this doesn’t often lead to problems. No level of exposure to asbestos is deemed safe by doctors, but most of the asbestos-related diseases occur with exposures that are heavy and/ or repeated.

As the National Cancer Institute reports, when asbestos fibers are released into the air, they can be inhaled, causing them to get trapped in the lungs, causing inflammation and scar tissue. Ultimately, this can affect breathing and lead to serious health problems.

Asbestos is classified as a known carcinogen, meaning it’s a substance that causes cancer.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer most commonly associated with asbestos exposure, and it involves cancer in the lining of the lungs and/ or stomach.

Demolition Crews and Asbestos Exposure Risks

As noted by the National Demolition Association, demolition crews serve an important role in our society. Our cities and communities only have finite amounts of space, and our structures don’t last forever. There comes a point at which they are no longer safe or functional, and must be torn down to remove blight or to rebuild.

Demolition involves a series of complex tasks including:

  • Structural dismantling
  • Site clearance
  • Environmental remediation
  • Salvage
  • Recycling
  • Industrial recover

There are many different types of demolition, including interior demolitions, explosive or implosive demolitions, residential demolitions, industrial demolitions and commercial demolition. There is also a process called deconstruction, which is a labor-intensive type of demolition that involves taking apart a structure in such a way as to maximize the amount of potentially recyclable materials from a building.

Environmental remediation of hazardous substances – including asbestos – is often done when demolition occurs. Asbestos was used in a huge range of building materials, including:

  • Pipe Insulation
  • Ceiling Insulation
  • Floor Tiles
  • Sprayed-on Fireproofing
  • Roofing Materials
  • Cement Products
  • Wallboard
  • Joint Compound
  • Decorative Plasters
  • Asbestos Siding
  • Mastics
  • Vinyl Sheet Flooring

The process of removing asbestos from a site is called Asbestos Abatement. Safe asbestos abatement is often a major – and expensive – part of the demolition process. It’s highly regulated, and proper asbestos handling, asbestos removal and asbestos disposal is a significant portion of the demolition market.

The physical properties of asbestos – the same ones that make it resistant to decay and heat – are also associated with serious adverse effects on humans.

In general, as the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection notes, there is no legal requirement to remove asbestos if it’s in good condition or if it poses no health hazards. However, building owners do have to keep their asbestos in good repair to prevent any visible or particulate asbestos release.

With demolitions, renovations or repairs, if there is a chance that asbestos-containing materials could be disturbed, asbestos must be removed before the activity.

For demolition of a building, Massachusetts law requires all asbestos be removed before the work starts.

Massachusetts Laws on Demolition and Asbestos

All institutional, commercial and residential buildings in the Commonwealth are subject to 310 CMR 7.15, which are the MassDEP’s asbestos regulations.

All owners and/ or operators of these facilities have a responsibility to identify any and all asbestos-containing materials present on site – and whether those materials are going to be affected by the work proposed – before the demolition, renovation or repair can start.

If asbestos is found, the MassDEP must be notified 10 days before any work can be conducted, and the notification fee is $100. If work is being conducted on owner-occupied residential properties with four or fewer units or on behalf of smaller government entities, the fee is waived.

In Massachusetts, there is currently only a single landfill in the state allowed to accept wastes that contain asbestos, and that site is in Westminster.

If the building operator or owner fails to identify and properly remove all material containing asbestos before it is impacted by renovation or demolition, it can result in severe penalties, including costs for clean-up, decontamination, disposal and monitoring.

However, this failure can also have a severe impact on demolition contractors.

453 CMR 6.00, under the Massachusetts Division of Occupational Safety, requires asbestos removal contractors to be licensed. This division also oversees these companies to make sure they are providing safe conditions for workers and others present on site. For most removal of asbestos, whether in the course of demolition, renovation or repair, a licensed contractor is mandated.

Property Owners, Demolition Companies Liable

Part of the reason demolition workers and renovation workers are so vulnerable to asbestos exposure is because property owners and demolition companies sometimes don’t follow the law. Proper asbestos abatement is pricey. It’s time-consuming. And some take their chances on skirting the statutes in the hopes they can get away with it.

But those who pay the biggest price are the workers directly exposed to this toxic material without the appropriate tools and protections.

Improper asbestos removal can involve:

  • Failure to wet asbestos materials or suspected asbestos materials;
  • Failure to monitor air quality samples;
  • Failure to provide workers with proper respiratory apparatus and other protections;
  • Failure to ensure proper ventilation for demolition workers.

In these situations, building owners, contractors and employers may be liable to compensate exposed workers and their families. In most of these cases, workers were not told of the risks and would never have consented to engaging in the work if they did.

This kind of willful disregard is one of the reasons jurors have awarded high damage awards – including punitive damage – for such claims.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.

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