A primary reason that homeowners may want to hire a professional abatement team to remove even small amounts of asbestos is the extensive protective gear required to keep the worker safe from the dangers of asbestos fibers in the air. The fibers are so small that they will pass through the paper masks that are commonly available at hardware stores. The same fibers can also stick on or inside clothes, where they can pose a later, secondary risk to whoever handles or washes those clothes.
Protecting the Airways
Since asbestos affects the lining of the lungs, a respirator is perhaps the most important piece of protective gear when working with asbestos. The most common of these is a dual-cartridge respirator that covers half the face. It is important that these cartridges include HEPA filters or have a NIOSH rating of N-100, P-100, or R-100; this means the filters are fine enough to prevent asbestos fibers from passing through. As important as the filter is the respirator’s fit. After all, the most sophisticated filter will not protect the wearer if air is able to leak in around the sides of the mask. It should be noted that facial hair can prevent a proper fit.
Protecting the Eyes and Skin
As with most construction projects, protective eyewear, such as safety goggles or glasses, are highly recommended. However, the clothing requirements are much more extensive than would usually be necessary. Many sources recommend multiple disposable coveralls and pairs of disposable gloves to keep asbestos debris from ever touching the worker’s hair or skin. The Minnesota Department of Health suggests that workers wear two sets of disposable coveralls, both with built in feet, so that the outer suit can be removed and discarded whenever the wearer leaves the work area. Regardless, when the project is finished, all suits and gloves should be disposed of in a sealed, designated asbestos waste bag.
The built-in feet in protective coveralls are generally insufficient protection for those performing construction work, so a sturdy pair of boots is necessary. To prevent the accumulation of toxic asbestos-containing dust, boots worn during abatement should be laceless, without buckles or other fasteners. They should be able to be thoroughly washed at the conclusion of the process.
Decontaminating Protective Gear
While it is not a form of equipment, decontamination at the end of the project is a vital step. All tools and surfaces should be cleaned before leaving the work area. The same precautions apply to any exposed skin. Since asbestos fibers are dangerous when they are allowed to float free in the air, getting them wet neutralizes the danger. However, water only temporarily neutralizes the danger, so any equipment that cannot be thoroughly cleaned must be thrown away.
While homeowners are not legally required to wear the same protective equipment as those paid and licensed to work with asbestos, they ignore these precautions at their own risk. Even brief exposure to asbestos has been found to cause serious health problems like mesothelioma.