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  • Writer's pictureDoug Kochanowski

Trace Asbestos; a California Rip-Off

In 49 out of the 50 states, asbestos is defined as a material containing greater than one-percent (1%) asbestos. The rouge state could have been New York or perhaps Washington, but these states are rookies in the art of overregulation compared to California.

In a proclaimed effort to better protect the health of California residences, Proposition

64, “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986” was passed by a

63%–37% vote. Its goals were to protect drinking water sources from toxic substances

that cause cancer and birth defects, and to reduce or eliminate exposures to those

chemicals by requiring warnings in advance of exposure. Businesses do not need to do

anything under Proposition 65 except provide a warning. Businesses can feel free to

continue using carcinogens as long as they tell everyone.

What’s so bad about that you ask?

The problem is toxic substances that cause cancer and birth defects are all around us, in dozens of materials we come in contact with every day. While this blog does not contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm, if you were to print this blog, California would like to warn you that the toner or the chemicals used to treat the paper, may. The link below sends you off to our friends at the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) where you can gander at the list of hundreds of dangerous substances that include such killers as alcoholic beverages, the areca nut, aspirin, the Bracken Fern, oral contraceptives, salted fish - Chinese-style (whatever the heck that is), and wood dust. They are also so kind as to list the more obvious compounds such as tobacco smoke, diesel engine exhaust, marijuana smoke, barbiturates, cocaine, and unleaded gasoline.

In all fairness, there have been some reductions in the use of these chemicals because manufacturers do not want to print the required warnings on their products. The most obvious results have been the postings of slews of silly signs all over the state telling us that there are materials on the premises that may kill us. But the largest impact as far as our industry is concerned, and in my opinion the costliest to our residences and businesses, has been the re-definition of asbestos containing from more than 1% to more than 0.1%. Materials containing between 1% and 0.1% asbestos are called a “trace asbestos containing material” or “Asbestos-Containing Construction Material” (ACCM) and are subject to Cal-OSHA regulations.

The increase in costs begin with the survey and testing phase. We must take at least three samples of each suspect material. These samples are transported to an analytical laboratory and analyzed by Polarized Light Microscopy - Dispersion Staining (PLM-DS). A relatively inexpensive procedure that costs from approximately $10 to $25 per sample depending upon the lab and the turnaround time. If any of the samples are found to contain more than 1% asbestos, the material is considered asbestos containing and must be treated as such. However, if any of the three samples are reported by the lab to contain less than 1% asbestos, reported as “trace asbestos,” then they must be re-analyzed. The re-analysis method is called a “1,000 field point count analysis” that statistically is able to define the asbestos content down to 0.1%. This procedure can cost from approximately $45 to $75 per sample depending upon the lab and the turnaround time. The increase in defining a single material in California can therefore rise from $30 or $75 to as much as $135 to $225.

Due to worker exposure issues attributed to Prop 65, materials found to contain trace asbestos must be removed in the same manner as a material that contains almost pure asbestos. In the other 49 states, trace asbestos materials are treated no different than regular construction materials. But here in California, if we are going to manually remove trace asbestos containing drywall from a 3,000 square foot office in preparation for a renovation, we must set up a full negative pressure enclosure with personnel and equipment decontamination chambers, area and personnel air monitoring and laboratory analysis, and trained workers donning respirators and protective clothing. The cost in the other 49 states may be around $1,500.00. The cost here in Prop 65 California would be around $30,000.00.

I was unable to obtain statistics on how much money is spent every year removing trace asbestos containing materials in California but I would guess it is at least a nine figure number. That’s much more than a billion dollars over the life of Prop 65. Because there is no statistical data showing a correlation exists between exposure to materials containing trace amounts of asbestos and disease, this seems like a large sum of money being spent due to a silly proposition that was originally intended to be a warning label issue. Trace asbestos; a California rip-off.


Stay tuned for future posts with more details on how trace asbestos containing materials

are tested and handled.

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May 01, 2021

Safe handling of hazardous materials costs more, news at 11.

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