I’m a project manager for DBS Remodel, a residential remodeling company based in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. A few months ago, in the midst of remodeling a kitchen, we came across what we believed to be vermiculite insulation above the room’s plaster ceiling. Upon discovery, we quickly sealed up the ceiling with tape and plastic and notified the homeowners. Our clients had chosen to remain in their late-1950s Cape-style home during the remodel, so we felt a sense of urgency when reaching out to asbestos abatement companies to confirm our find.
Kevin Mathisen of Lucas Environmental Services out of Kingston, N.Y., made a jobsite visit and verified that the light granular insulation was vermiculite. He noted that while it may or may not contain asbestos, a substantial amount of vermiculite that had been sold throughout the U.S. under the trade name “Zonolite” contained varying amounts of asbestos. As a result, New York state regulations assume vermiculite to be an asbestos-containing material.
Size matters. Our client’s kitchen was 150 square feet and Mathisen explained that New York state defines any work under 160 square feet as a “small” abatement project (square footage is used to estimate asbestos-tainted materials like floor tile or vermiculite, while linear footage is used for materials like pipe insulation). For abatement projects, square footage is one of various regulatory thresholds that impact the scope of the asbestos mitigation work. Even “small” projects require the rigors of a licensed abatement contractor setting up a containment area, removing the asbestos, and demobilizing the work area. In addition, baseline air testing, visual inspection of the containment, visual inspection of the completed removal area, and collection of final air samples must be conducted by a third-party air monitoring firm to avoid conflict of interest.
The estimate was $6,400 for the abatement work and an additional $800 for monitoring-supervising services. While the homeowners noted that neighbors up the road had just renovated a home similar in style and vintage to theirs and didn’t have an asbestos abatement, our clients quickly came to appreciate the steps we took to bring Lucas on board and that the vermiculite would be removed properly, even though it would add to the project’s cost.
The abatement. The separation wall between the kitchen and the rest of the living area had to be beefier than a standard ZipWall dust barrier, so I framed a temporary wall out of 2-bys—on which Lucas later installed a double layer of woven reinforced plastic—in the middle of an open archway. This gave the clients access to their bathroom and bedroom areas.
Once the third-party monitor, JPM Environmental Solutions, out of Newburgh, N.Y., had conducted baseline air testing, Lucas set up its containment shell and warning signage and cordoned off outdoor work areas. Wearing Tyvek suits, respirators, and gloves, workers wetted down the vermiculite with sprayers and bagged up the material, sealing the heavy-mil bags with duct tape. The bags were brought out to their box truck and later transported to their shop. The existing plaster ceiling and walls were removed and bagged up as well.
JPM Environmental then inspected the abatement work and gave the OK, and the abatement crew HEPA vacuumed and wet-wiped the work area. Once it was clean, JPM conducted another visual inspection, and upon its approval, the Lucas crew exited the work area via a three-chambered decontamination/waste-out system, which consisted of a changing room, a shower room, and an equipment room. A post-abatement settling period began, to allow the room to dry and the air to settle. A couple of days later, JPM Environmental returned to conduct its final air check to verify the amount of fibers in the air was below the legal limit.
Given the all clear by JPM, the abatement crew returned and broke down the work area, disposing of the poly sheeting in asbestos waste bags. The abatement process came to an end, and after four business days, we resumed remodeling the kitchen.
Photos by Mike Whalen and Kevin Mathisen