Everyday in Canada and the United States Hazardous Materials are being removed improperly contaminating the buildings we occupy. The hazardous materials including asbestos, lead paint, mould and fungus are removed improperly, overlooked, ignored or are disregarded by unscrupulous building owners, corporate executives, their representatives, building and property managers because of limited budgets, lack of knowledge, greed or contempt for worker or public health and safety.
The potential high Costs of Litigation and possible prosecution of building owner s, (Corporate Executives, Building Owners, Plant & Maintenance Managers, Property Managers, Architects and Consulting Engineers or their representatives) should be enough of a deterrent but is not. Potentially those owners or their representatives that do not assess the high risk of possible hazards materials prior to renovation or demolition projects can lead to personal and corporate exposure and liability.
In most cases, General Liability Insurance and Errors and Omissions Insurance policies DO NOT cover Pollution and Environmental Hazards. Most General Contractors rarely carry any environmental and pollution coverage.
Notwithstanding, the high litigation costs, also prosecution under the Occupational Health & Safety Act for mishandling Hazardous Materials is becoming a major problem in Canada. Although, it is nowhere as frequent or as costly as it is the United States.
Asbestos Case: Improper Asbestos Removal done at over 200 Buildings!
An asbestos removal contractor, 12 individuals from two companies arrested and charged pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud, to violations of federal clean air standards for removing, transporting and disposing of asbestos over 10 years, in Albany, New York.
In addition, Joseph Thorn of Renssellaer, the owner of A+ Environmental Services, was arrested and charged with money laundering in connection with supervising illegal abatement projects at more than 130 sites. He faces a possible 65 Year prison sentence and up to a $ 6 Million Dollar fine. He was released on $ 25,000.00 bail.
The U.S. Attorney Daniel French stated; 'The breadth of the criminal violations are shocking. The willingness of these defendants to place workers, children and the public at risk is unconscionable. They are criminal, they were driven by greed, their behavior was reprehensible.'
Improper asbestos removal at more than 200 buildings, in upstate New York, workers were untrained, falsified air-quality tests and neglected to file proper paperwork to alert health authorities, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced after a widespread probe into the industry another several hundred buildings could be affected including many schools, fire stations, public buildings homes, state office complexes and private homes. No publication of the buildings would be announced publicly until all building owners were notified.
Although in the United States, prosecution under the EPA/Occupational Health & Safety Act for mishandling Hazardous Materials is becoming more prevalent. In Canada, you have a better chance of being hit by lightning.
Class Action Litigation Toxic Mold
MOLD On July 2, 1999 an announcement of a class action lawsuit for exposing children to Toxic Mold by parents against a local School Board outside the Toronto area is seeking damages for up to $ 1 Billion Dollars.
ASBESTOS CANADA However, as recent as September 21, 1999, a Calgary Steel Company Executive has been ordered arrested and a Canada wide warrant for his arrest has been issued, for unsafe handling of Asbestos.
Tougher Legislation Fines and Licensing
We require tougher federal and State/Provincial government legislation, licensing and more enforcement officers in the field with the authority to impose tougher fines and charges. Today, the fines to unscrupulous owners, contractors and consultants are minimal and catching them is even harder.
Inadequate and Outdated Legislation in Canada
In Canada, there is inadequate current legislation or it is totally outdated on hazardous materials that cause serious health problems such as mold, asbestos and lead paint just to mention a few!
In the United States, they have the legislation, but obviously the problem is catching the offenders.
Due to a lack of government legislation and enforcement this practice of Mishandling Hazardous Materials continues on an almost daily basis across Canada and the United States.
The public or personal exposure to Hazardous Materials such as Asbestos, Lead Paint, Lead & Heavy Metals Dust, Pharmaceutical & Medical Waste, PCB s, MTBE in drinking water because of gasoline from leaking Underground Storage Tanks, Toxic Mold and Fungus, and environmental contamination as a result of fires in industrial and manufacturing facilities, where chemicals mix and burn. All these Toxic and Hazardous Materials could result in serious short and long-term health problems.
The threat of prosecution, fines, costs of Litigation to Corporate Executives, Building Owners, Plant & Maintenance Managers, Property Managers, Architects, Consulting Engineers and contractors or their representatives, that do not assess the high risk of possible Hazards, can lead to personal and corporate exposure and liability should be there, but the fines are small usually and only if they are caught and prosecuted!
By following some very simple proactive procedures, you can limit your exposure as an owner, a corporate executive, a property manager, an Architect and or Engineer. In buildings constructed before 1985, recognize that hazardous materials including Asbestos, Lead, Mould & Fungus, Underground Storage Tanks and PCB's exist in many residential, commercial, industrial and institutional structures as common building and insulating materials.
Pro-Active Environmental Investigations
Prior to building retrofits or demolition, environmental investigations can prevent any work delays, Ministry of Labor Stop Work Orders, can promote worker health & safety and can prevent potential professional exposure and liabilities for architects, consulting engineers and building owners.
Identify Hazardous Materials
Architects and Consulting Engineers are licensed and responsible professionals; therefore you must be aware of and identify the presence or absence of these materials when dealing with building retrofits. Failure to advise your client(s) or the contractors working on a project of the presence of hazardous materials in and /or on a property may present you with potential future liabilities and a costly litigation process, where you are not covered by insurance. In some cases the Federal and Provincial regulations and legislation is not up to current accepted industry standards. It is your obligation to protect the interests of your clients(s), the contractors, the health & safety of workers, the building occupants and the natural environment.
Pre-Qualified Environmental Contractors
You can eliminate your exposure and liability by completing all the environmental investigations prior to the tendering process. In tendering specifications include these findings, with an Environmental Scope of Work and Remedial Action for all Hazardous Wastes and stipulating in the use of approved pre-qualified environmental professionals during the project.
Proper Pre-Qualification Documents or CCA-11
Pre-Qualification using the Canadian Construction Document 'Canadian Standard Form of Contractors Qualification Statement CCA- Document # 11- Includes current and past references, performance bond facilities, bank and financial information accompanied by the verification of proper Environmental and Pollution Insurance Coverage. CHECK REFERENCES!
Pre-Qualified Independent Environmental Consultants
Pre-Qualified Independent Environmental Consultants are available to perform assessments for hazardous materials and other potential environmental concerns on residential, commercial, and industrial properties. Each assessment includes sampling of all suspected hazardous materials, confirmatory laboratory analysis and complete reporting of all findings. They can also complete specifications and tender packages for any required remedial activities and perform project management services.
Buildings constructed prior to 1985 may contain hazardous materials such as asbestos, lead, mould and fungus, PCB s and may also contain Urea Formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI). Older buildings, which were previously heated with oil, may have underground storage tanks (UST s) remaining on the property. These are common occurrences to which all architects and Consulting Engineers should be aware and ensure all building owners and contractors are informed prior to the start of any retrofit project. Hazardous materials represent potential serious health hazards for contractors, costly environmental hazards for building owners and potential liabilities to architects and engineers.
Asbestos may be found in many forms both inside and outside a building. Inside asbestos may take the form of paper or hard block insulation on hot water piping, heating ducts or as molded pipe fitting insulation and joint compounds on furnaces. Asbestos may also be found in floor tiles, sheet flooring, ceiling tiles and acoustical (stucco) finishes or as wall and attic insulating materials. Exterior uses for asbestos may include shingles or siding materials and asbestos cement pipes. Asbestos is a potential health hazard if damaged and disturbed through renovation or demolition activities. Potential future liabilities for both the property owner and the architect are also attached to the presence of asbestos.
Lead can be found in interior and exterior paints or in plumbing as lead pipes or lead solder on copper pipes. Lead Dust or Heavy Metal Dusts can be found on rafters, ceilings or Structural Beams of many industrial and manufacturing facilities. The presence or absence of lead in a building may have many implications. The value of a Building or property may be greatly reduced due to the presence of lead. Dangers associated with lead dust from renovation and demolition activities in older buildings and the high costs for lead clean-up or removal by recognized trained professionals must be realized and passed on to your clients. Lead is now being placed in the same group as asbestos and urea formaldehyde with regards to reducing the value of a property. Lead, once identified, becomes a health hazard to contractors and a potential future liability for property owners and the architect and consulting engineer, responsible for the project.
PCB's are found in heat transfer oils in transformers and switches and in fluorescent light fixtures as a component in ballast s. PCB containing ballast s are very common and are found in fixtures produced prior to 1980. PCB s are well known in carcinogen and as such must be treated with care. Such ballast s can not be simply thrown in the garbage but must be handled and disposed of properly by qualified professional contractors. Larger pieces of equipment containing PCB oils must also be identified and handled appropriately. Once again, the presence of PCB s may have an effect on the value of a property due to costs associated with removal, disposal and replacement of light fixtures, transformers and other such equipment. Current regulations require strict handling and disposal practices. This also becomes a potential liability for property owners and architects.
Mould and Fungus has been in the press consistently found in school portables, in ceilings, walls, basements and cool damp areas. All building could potentially contain mould & fungus. Where ever water damage may have occurred, around pipes and fittings, wet pipe insulation, in crawl spaces and water closets. This is an issue where properly trained personnel should only handle and remove mould and fungus.
Urea Formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) was used in the early 1980 s in many residential and commercial buildings as a subsequent or main insulating material in walls and ceiling spaces. Liquid foam was sprayed into an area to be insulated where it expanded to completely fill the space and hardened. Unfortunately it was found that this type of foam insulation emitted toxic formaldehyde fumes causing serious respiratory health effects. Subsequently many homes and commercial buildings had the foam removed by qualified contractors.
However, many structures still have the UFFI material in place. Presently there is a disclosure clause in every real estate agreement concerning UFFI. In many instances, however, building owners are unaware that their building contains UFFI passed on by former owners. Identification of UFFI can avoid potential health & safety issues for the contractor and liabilities for the owner and architect.
Underground Storage Tanks Furnaces that are presently fuelled, or were fuelled in the past, by oil require an oil storage tank . These tanks were generally located above ground, in basement areas, or were buried outside near foundation walls.
If tanks are present there is potential for leakage from the tanks themselves or from associated piping. Buried tanks were used largely in industrial or commercial buildings. However, many larger residential buildings also used underground storage tanks for oil storage. Any buried fuel oil tanks not in use are required to be removed by law. These tanks may pose potentially large and costly environmental problems and represent a large potential liability for owners and architects.
Infection Control in Health facilities briefly during construction by isolating the construction work areas from the occupied areas in the Hospital. A very intricate plan to build the necessary sealed containment structures, using approved caulking and sealants, a step by step procedure of installation of upper seals, , using high volumes of HEPA Negative Air Filtration Units, HEPA Vacuums and effectively isolating the construction areas therefore preventing any contamination during construction or renovation.
Pro-Active Environmental Assessments In closing being pro-active when it comes to recognizing Hazardous Materials are in buildings before 1985 and establishing a plan of action. The by establishing a consistent protocol, of site and building assessment, identification, following proper remedial action with a defined scope of work and hiring the best qualified consultant and contractor, will protect you and your clients in the future.