Asbestos Abatement Challenges

For abatement preceding renovation, abatement of a structure is closely tied to the schedule set forth by the general contractor’s construction timeline. However, the presence of many potential obstacles that could cause abatement professionals to fall behind on their contract and receive a claim for delay charges from the general contractor adds to the difficulty of a profession rife with environmental dangers.

Limits of Construction

Sometimes the “limits of construction” on a renovation drawing, which denote where renovation is to take place, only encompasses part of an area’s wall, floor or ceiling, necessitating the removal of asbestos outside these limits to construct the critical barrier. Because this might significantly increase the amount of abatement area and time involved, this puts abatement companies in danger of falling behind on their project. All asbestos materials must be completely removed before general contractors can perform their repairs, creating issues in areas with asbestos outside the “limits of construction.” Some of the materials outside the “limits of construction” might include asbestos-lined pipes that extend across walls and ceilings, asbestos flooring materials and ducts containing the material.

Concealed Asbestos-Containing Materials

Concealed asbestos-containing materials present another challenge to abatement professionals because the location and subsequent removal can prove far more time consuming than anticipated. These potential sources of asbestos might demand time-consuming destructive testing to locate. Unfortunately, contractors also might bid the abatement job lower than it actually is, making it difficult or impossible for abatement to occur in the anticipated time period.   Some typical locations of concealed asbestos-containing materials include piping located inside walls, soundproofing inside walls, furred-in fireproof columns and beams and plaster ceilings above lay-in ceilings.

Emergency and Essential Services

Because occupied buildings must continue operating during abatement, the structure’s emergency systems must continue to operate normally, with the exception of the area where abatement is taking place. Even the abatement area must sometimes be equipped with safety systems, as well as provide for the easy entrance and exit of abatement workers. Sometimes special security and telecommunication equipment is located where an enclosure will sit, necessitating the removal of this equipment. Furthermore, the considerably bulky abatement enclosures and materials must not block emergency exits, fire house cabinets or fire extinguishers, making planning for asbestos abatement extremely essential to a smooth abatement project that adheres to the codes set forth.

Abatement and Contractor Accommodations

Because abatement involves the use of negative air machines and water for decontamination, a source of electricity and water must be identified before abatement can take place. Furthermore, a transportation and collection system for used water containing asbestos must be established, making it essential abatement professionals identify such sources early. HVAC systems inside the asbestos abatement enclosure must be turned off to ensure the removed toxins do not circulate throughout the building through the heating and cooling system.  Finally, the negative air exhaust that is contaminated with asbestos particles must be pumped outside of the building, when possible. If the building’s layout does not allow the removal of contaminated exhaust to an outside location, the exhaust can be emptied into a high-volume air-sampling pump somewhere in an unoccupied area of the building, presenting an additional physical obstacle to the normal operation of a facility.

With so much required equipment and such a need for access to power and water, contractor space considerations can become a major problem as well. The general contractor’s required “mobilization area” outside of the enclosure is where essential equipment and supplies are stored. This area also becomes the supervisor’s temporary office and must be conveniently located with easy access that does not involve travel throughout the building to reach it. In addition, the alarm asbestos can create in individuals makes many building or facility owners wish for abatement companies to take all possible steps to ensure the discretion of their project, which might impact the warning signs used, abatement employee visibility and actual project visibility.

Testing, Inspecting and Quantifying Asbestos-Containing Materials

The asbestos-containing material’s condition may present another issue for project design, which might require later attention than anticipated. Deciding whether to remove materials depends on the type of renovation planned and the integrity of the material.  In addition, prospective contractors must place their bids for projects based on their estimates of asbestos materials present, creating potential issues if such bids were not completed carefully. It is important these contractors did not overlook any locations for abatement, as this can significantly impact the time required for the completion of the project. Although experienced asbestos abatement professionals understand the general procedure and time allotment required, no two buildings or asbestos accumulations are the same, creating a host of unknown issues these professionals must often adapt to mid-job.


  • Oberta, Andrew F. (2005). Asbestos Control: Surveys, Removal, and Management (2nd ed.). West Conshohocken, PA: ASTM International.