Officials with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are talking about some proposed modifications to state asbestos disposal laws. If the changes are approved, the new regulations could carry a severe effect on how construction, remodeling and demolition firms in the state handle construction materials from older structures that contain asbestos. The potential new rules could also change how companies remove, transport and dispose of asbestos-laced construction debris.
Current state laws require that a structure that could contain asbestos needs to be sealed off in order to prevent further potential contamination. At that point, a certified asbestos inspector conducts a survey of the property and takes air samples for laboratory testing. If the tests show positive results for asbestos, contractors must hire a qualified asbestos remediation company and follow state and federal procedures for the safe removal and disposal of the asbestos-containing materials.
The new regulations under consideration by the DEQ would require that inspectors carry out more frequent and more stringent air quality tests on buildings due for demolition or renovation. Another set of rules would mandate that a state inspector oversee the asbestos removal process on site several times per week. Some building owners have taken issue with the proposed rules, stating that they would incur the additional expenses for the new tests and that projects would experience delays as the inspectors conducted their investigations.
Several asbestos removal projects have been underway at Fort Chaffee, a training center and readiness school for US Army and National Guard troops. Many of the structures on the base were built during World War II, when the use of asbestos in construction materials was at its peak. A spokesperson for the Chaffee Redevelopment Authority said that the new rules would require them to hire additional staff to supervise the asbestos abatement and conduct tests before, during and after the project.
Kendall Shelby, an asbestos consultant who conducts many of the tests that the regulations would require, said that his company already carries out stringent asbestos tests for clients as a courtesy. He stated that his firm, along with several others, has kept up with the strictest letter of the previous regulations and plans to continue to do so, so the new standards will not have an adverse effect on his bottom line. He also mentioned that the current regulations were the result of a drop in enforcement during the late 1990s and that the state is returning to more stringent standards for asbestos testing.
Mike Porta, the assistant head of the DEQ’s Air Quality division, said that the rules would also allow for lower licensing fees for companies specializing in asbestos abatement. The department expects an increase in demand for certified asbestos removal contractors and air quality testers if agency leaders approve the new regulations.
The public hearing to discuss the new regulations is scheduled for early next week at the DEQ’s offices in North Little Rock. If the Department approves the new measures, enforcement could begin as early as this fall.