When Northeast Portlander Andrea Damewood decided to remodel the bathroom in her home, she began to take all the necessary steps to ensure a successful home improvement project. From planning, to preparing the bathroom space, Damewood was ready to get started.
But when Damewood met with the contractor slated to do the job, she learned that before work could get underway, a few materials that would be disrupted during the remodel would require special testing.
That testing would determine whether those materials – in Damewood’s case the vinyl flooring – contained asbestos. Because if it does, Damewood would need to plan for the safe disposal of it.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber used in a variety of building materials for strength and durability. When these materials are damaged or disturbed, as in the process of a demolition or remodel, they become extremely hazardous. Small fibers are released into the air, and breathing them in increases the risks of lung disease and cancer. Direct contact with any amount should be avoided throughout a project – it shouldn’t even go into a trashcan.
A lot of building materials, like ceiling panels, duct tape, vinyl flooring, and even glue, can contain asbestos. But a lot don’t. Getting a test to know what’s contaminated is the first step.
“The process is really painless,” said Damewood.
Different rules apply to garbage that may contain asbestos
Because of the hazards associated with asbestos, Metro transfer stations require documentation for all loads of construction, remodeling and demolition debris that might contain it. This includes a wide range of construction materials, such as siding, ceiling and floor tiles, pipe insulation and plaster. After April 1, the list of materials requiring testing will also include things such as insulation, stucco and roofing materials.
“It means there are going to be more materials in the average home that are going to be considered suspicious,” said Penny Erickson, a manager in Metro’s Property and Environmental Services Department. “So someone that’s doing remodeling or any construction projects needs to be more aware of what those materials are and ensure they’re sampling materials prior to bringing us a load for disposal.”
“As an asbestos building inspector, I applaud the changes. They’re very important,” said Robert Strong, an accredited asbestos inspector. “But from the standpoint of a contractor, I can appreciate the level of frustration having to include analytical information for even more material.”
Before demolition or remodeling at home, follow these steps
- Use an accredited inspector to survey your project for materials that might contain asbestos.
- Have any suspect materials tested.
- Fill out a waste acceptance form.
- Bring the form and survey or test results with your load to a Metro transfer station. If you don’t have the proper paperwork, your load will be turned away.
Test results must be printed out. No electronic or mobile copies are accepted.
What to test
Right now, Metro transfer stations require documentation certifying 1 percent or less asbestos by weight to dispose of the following items that come from a structure built before 2004.
- Interior walls and ceilings: acoustical tiles, glue dots, plaster, spray-on, orange peel and “popcorn” texture
- Exterior walls: cement siding
- Flooring: vinyl tiles, sheet vinyl
- Insulation/fireproofing: spray-applied, vermiculite, monokote, sink undercoating, thermal system insulation (exempt: fiberglass, cellulose, mineral wool)
- Heating: white paper or seam tape on ducts, air-duct cement and insulation
- Fire doors, fire/kiln brick and fireproofing
After April 1, the list above will expand to inlcude these items from structures built before 2004.
- Surfacing materials for interior walls and ceilings: textured surfacing material, such as trowel-applied and skim or brown coats that covers the entire surface
- Insulation/fireproofing: block, boiler and spray-applied sink undercoating
- Gaskets: furnace, mechanical, boiler, wood stove
- Roofing materials: tar paper, felt, silver/white roofing paint, Nicolite paper
- Various compounds: window glazing, adhesives, caulks, patching, mastics, vapor barrier products (exempt: plastic or synthetic materials such as Tyvek)
- Electrical: switch gear, circuit boxes and fuse panels; wiring with cloth insulation (exempt: Romex wiring)
Metro’s hazardous waste facilities (in Northwest Portland and Oregon City) accept a maximum of two 25-pound bags of asbestos-containing materials per day from residential customers only. Materials must be sealed in double, 6-mil plastic bags. You can take larger quantities to Hillsboro Landfill and Wasco County Landfill.
As a homeowner, Damewood says she would encourage anyone who wants to save money to do the asbestos sampling themselves. Though, she warns DIYers to be careful during the process.
“Asbestos can really mess you up,” Damewood said. “You definitely want to know before you expose your lungs, and your family’s lungs, to whatever might be in your walls.”