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Starting a renovation project? Test for asbestos before demolition.

Asbestos Testing

According to most readings of the NESHAPS asbestos rules, there is no end date for asbestos testing depending on the time of construction. That means that ANY renovation project involving demolition should have an asbestos survey done to determine whether further asbestos testing is needed.

Asbestos has only been completely banned in certain building materials, and asbestos has been found in materials from buildings built in the 21st century. Depending on the type of building, asbestos inspection and asbestos testing may be required for demolition or renovation activities regardless of the original construction date.

Property owners and general contractors need to be in the compliance with the Cal/OSHA Asbestos construction standard This essentially means that you must assume all suspect materials contain asbestos – unless proven otherwise. It’s usually less expensive to hire an asbestos consultant to perform an asbestos assessment and determine there isn’t any asbestos.

General Contractor Clause Regarding Asbestos

Because asbestos abatement and asbestos removal may significantly increase the cost of demolition on a project, contractors and builders often include a clause in their contract such as:

“Any new conditions, such as asbestos discovered mid-project, would then trigger a “claim” or “extra” negotiation between the contractor and the owner.”

Reading between the lines this equates to a “Change Order,” and possibly a considerable extra expense that comes as a surprise mid-way through a construction project. The best way to protect the building owner from this potential surprise expense (and asbestos exposure) is to perform an asbestos survey in advance of construction.

California contractors are advised, “if you discover asbestos in the middle of a project, stop work in the area immediately!

Asbestos Survey Basics

Because asbestos material testing requires a physical sample it is, by definition, destructive sampling. It may be prudent to sample only those materials to be impacted by an upcoming remodel, or only testing materials that have been already been damaged.  Often the safest course is to avoid disturbing the suspected asbestos-containing materials.

Air sampling for asbestos will not definitively tell whether there is asbestos in building materials.  Only sampling the material itself and analysis by an accredited laboratory can provide that answer.  Air sampling may be useful if there is a general concern about asbestos in the air or a suspicion that asbestos work was performed.   Asbestos air testing should be performed after any known removal of asbestos materials and before re-occupancy.

Healthy Building Science can provide asbestos air sampling services in suspected trouble spots, during abatement, and for asbestos clearance after abatement. Initial air testing can help identify if there is indeed asbestos in the ambient air. Air monitoring sampling during demolition or abatement is a common cost-saving and risk reduction strategy. Air testing is often provided at the end of asbestos abatement projects, as part of a final inspection (clearance) of the abatement.

Air & Bulk Testing for Asbestos may include:

  • Asbestos- Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM) NIOSH 7400
  • Asbestos- Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) AHERA, Yamate II, or NIOSH 7402
  • Asbestos- Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM)

Your industrial hygienist will determine which of the above asbestos testing methods is permissible for your specific project. Depending on the building type, anticipated construction work, type and condition of building materials, etc., your asbestos expert will determine what to test, where to test, and what sort of asbestos lab analysis to request.

Common Asbestos Containing Materials

Asbestos may be in any composite materials. Here is an abbreviated, incomplete list of materials with asbestos:

  • asbestos-containing flooring and mastic
  • asbestos-containing roofing materials
  • asbestos-containing vermiculite
  • paint that contains asbestos
  • asbestos in plaster and wall systems
  • asbestos in transite siding and similar materials
  • asbestos in window caulk, glazing compound, wiring, and other similar materials

Requirements for Asbestos Consultant

In California any asbestos consultant must hold one of the following certificates:

  • Asbestos Building Inspector
  • Asbestos Contractor/Supervisor
  • Asbestos Project Designer
  • Asbestos Management Planner
  • Asbestos Site Surveillance Technicians


picture of asbestos warning label - asbestos inspection bay area

California Asbestos Regulations

For industrial hygienists and asbestos contractors, there are several regulatory agencies overseeing the safe identification of asbestos hazards, asbestos abatement, demolition and transportation of hazardous waste. Each of these actions is regulated by a different agency with unique regulatory requirements, and often the regulations overlap.

As an example, NESHAP Practice Standards consider an “asbestos-containing material” (ACM) anything with greater than 1% asbestos content. CAL/OSHA Practice Standards apply to any material with a concentration greater 0.1% and with a surface area of 100 square feet (>100 sf) or more. The California Contractors State License Board (CSLB) defines an ACM as any material containing asbestos with greater than 100 sf.

100 Square Foot Loophole for Asbestos

The 100 square asbestos foot loophole has been widely misunderstood and overused, putting building owners, occupants, and contractors at work. According to the CSLB, “no one may do abatement or other asbestos-related work of 100 square feet or more without special certification/licensure and DOSH registration. Further, even in cases where there are less than 100 square feet of asbestos to be removed, DOSH training and reporting is still required!”

Why was Asbestos Used in Building Materials?

Asbestos was first used in the United States, in the early 1900s mainly on steam pipes for thermal insulation and fireproofing, but was not used extensively until the 1940s. Today, there are over 3000 building products that have been identified to contain asbestos. Asbestos was primarily used as fireproofing, insulation, soundproofing and decorative applications. Asbestos fibers are unique and their unique properties have made them desirable in many different building materials.

What makes Asbestos so dangerous?

It was well-known thousands of years ago that those who worked in the asbestos mines suffered from “sickness of the lungs” and died at an early age. Despite all the “miracle” qualities of asbestos, it has been classified as a human carcinogen by the EPA because research has proven it to be the cause of several debilitating diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and gastrointestinal cancer to name a few. They typically manifest themselves between 10 to 40 years after initial exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos Survey Sample Projects:

  • San Jose asbestos monitoring for a school nearby construction
  • San Francisco asbestos testing for affordable housing multi-family buildings
  • Oakland commercial asbestos survey
  • Sunnyvale monitoring of asbestos removal
  • Berkeley asbestos survey for home
  • San Mateo asbestos testing
  • San Rafael asbestos survey

Asbestos Testing San Francisco Bay Area

Healthy Building Science is an environmental consulting firm which provides asbestos testing, asbestos survey, asbestos inspection and asbestos consulting services for multi-family buildings, offices, industrial and manufacturing workplaces, hospitals and medical facilities, and single-family homes in the greater San Francisco Bay Area and all of Northern California including the cities of San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Hayward, Sunnyvale, Fremont, Concord, Salinas, Santa Clara, Berkeley, Vallejo, Fairfield, Antioch, Richmond, Daly City, San Rafael, San Mateo, Vacaville, San Leandro, Livermore and Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Marin County, Napa County, San Mateo County, Santa Clara County, Solano County and Sonoma County.

Call (415) 785-7986 or complete this form to discuss your asbestos testing project.

Suspect Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs)

Asbestos Roof Removal
  • Vapor Barriers on or behind walls, ceilings, floors, or fixtures
  • Piping and Boiler Insulation
  • Heating System Components
  • Electrical: knob and tube wiring, insulation fuse box insulation
  • Vinyl Floor Tile and underlying mastic
  • Vinyl Sheet Flooring and backing
  • Linoleum flooring
  • Leveling Compound
  • Carpet Glue
  • Grout and mortar associated with ceramic tile
  • Baseboard and associated glues
  • Wallboard/Drywall/Sheetrock with joint or taping compound
  • Wall and ceiling plasters
  • Interior wall texture
  • Acoustical Ceiling Tiles
  • Ceiling tile glue
  • Sprayed acoustical ceiling texture
  • Window putty
  • Exterior Paints and waterproofing
  • Exterior Stucco
  • Exterior Transite siding (cementitious panels)
  • Roofing components including shingles, tars, papers, felts, and mastics


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