A New Orleans courthouse in Orleans Parish was preparing for a renovation when both lead paint and asbestos were found throughout the ground and first floors. The courthouse was built 86 years ago when both the lead paint and asbestos were legally used in construction. Now, however, it is widely known that both can cause serious health repercussions.
Dangers of asbestos
The first regulation of asbestos took place as part of the 1970 Clean Air Act, yet it still exists in homes and commercial buildings built before 1978. Asbestos doesn’t pose a danger as long as it is undisturbed, but when scratched, broken, or otherwise damaged, the asbestos releases microscopic fibers into the air. These fibers can be inhaled through exposure and cause serious diseases, such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma – a deadly disease. Since the latency period can last up to 50 years after exposure, there will be deaths from exposure well into the next century. The Environmental Working Group Action Fund estimates that in the U.S. 10,000 people die from asbestos-related diseases each year.
Inspectors found asbestos in 40 percent of the bulk insulation samples taken from the ground and first floors. The potential harm from these samples qualified identified areas as EPA Hazard Category 1. Since fibers were already exposed, these areas required immediate abatement.
Other asbestos found in cloth, wrap, and spray-on insulation, were not yet releasing fibers so were named an EPA Category 7 – immediate abatement not required. These cases needed only the placement of warning labels.
Dangers of lead-based paint
Lead-based paint generally harms through ingestion. Children are the most vulnerable as they lick and touch the paint, which can contribute to developmental problems.
Paint samples taken from the courthouse revealed 63 of 79 (80 percent) taken from the first floor tested positive for lead. To remedy this, a liquid-based technique was used for removal to avoid spreading airborne dust or particles from the peeling paint.
The ground and first floors were tested and remediated for lead paint and asbestos in March of 2017. The renovations in these areas will be completed the summer of 2018. There was no testing on the second and third floors, however, since they were not in the renovation plans. Reports from the Materials Management Group (MMG) inspectors stated the spray-on insulation should be “assumed throughout the building.” These inspectors also reported, “Lead-based paint was detected throughout the interior painted surfaces of the building. Due to the deterioration of the painted surfaces, MMG recommends that a contractor licensed for lead removal/abatement is employed to control or abate these surfaces.”
Any structure, residential or commercial, built before 1980 should be suspected to have either, or both, lead-based paint and asbestos. Before renovations or tear-downs, it is important to hire inspectors familiar with hazardous substances to assess the need for abatement procedures. Don’t let the relatively minor cost of an inspection expose you and others to the potentially deadly fibers of asbestos.