After you have found an environmental problem at your property, you take the next step to resolve it. After contacting a professional to remediate the problem, you might even breathe a sigh of relief. However, sometimes the help you request can lead to dire consequences. In a previous blog, I discussed environmental horror stories from the perspective of an inspector. In this new followup, we will look at abatement projects gone horribly wrong.
Chapter 1: Broken Barrier
One day, a pair of homeowners decided that they wanted to renovate the first floor of their property to give it a modern aesthetic. Doing their due diligence, they had their property inspected, which uncovered asbestos-containing materials in various areas that would impact the work. They contacted a contractor to perform the work which would take care of the asbestos. The second floor was where all the bedrooms were located, so the area was sealed with plastic sheeting along with a negative air machine placed only on the second floor. Once the work was finished, the owners went to the second-floor containment and discovered all of the areas and their belongings were coated in dust. The containment barrier broke down and the negative air machine pulled dust from the abatement containment. The dust was tested and no asbestos was found, however, the dust had elevated lead levels throughout the 2nd floor. To protect their small children, the owners disposed of many of their belongings. The lead abatement lasted several weeks due to repeated clearance failures, throughout which the occupants were unable to live in their property.
Chapter 2: The Fog
Earlier in my field days, I was assigned to conduct lead air sampling for workers who were blasting lead off of walls in an abandoned warehouse. The process of blasting involves shooting pellets at lead based paint to remove it from surfaces inside of a contained area with negative air machines. During the end of one of my shifts, I noticed that I had left a tool inside of the containment, and began to put on my personal protective equipment (PPE) to prepare to enter the area. While moving towards the area, I saw a great fog of particulates from the blasting which likely contained lead dust. The abatement supervisor stopped me and volunteered to grab the item for me. I agreed to let him retrieve the item and thanked him. As he walked into the containment I noticed he didn’t have PPE on and in instant disappeared into the dense fog. He came out moments later and handed me the item as I looked on with shock.
Chapter 3: Abandoned Insulation
During the same time period of the previous chapter, I was still performing air monitoring on a different side of the warehouse, but this time looking for asbestos. As I had recently entered the field, I was undergoing training with a licensed asbestos inspector in order to gain experience hours. After analyzing the samples on site, I noticed that levels inside of the containments drastically rose and I forwarded this data to the site inspector and project manager. During a walk through with the inspector in full PPE, he suddenly stopped and noticed white chunks of debris throughout the area. The white chunks were air cell pipe insulation that had been ripped off of their piping and fallen to the ground. The inspector confronted the abatement supervisor about the debris and the supervisor stated that since the building was being demolished it was irrelevant. Please note that friable materials must be removed prior to the demolition of a property in accordance with NESHAP regulations. After a heated exchange, the abatement team began to properly abate the remaining debris.
Calling for professional expertise to remediate environmental issues is an essential step in environmental due diligence. However, sometimes not all of the professionals in an industry follow best safety practices which can lead to environmental disasters, which, in some cases, are worse than the initial problem. Overall in my experience, the environmental remediation and abatement industries are a group of well-trained individuals and organizations that perform their work to the highest standards and make safety a priority. But hiring a 3rd party like Indoor Science to perform clearance testing at the end of the project is a great way to document that the job was completed successfully– and prevent a horror story of your own.