Are you finally getting around to renovating that office building? Planning to repurpose that quality control lab built in the 1950s? Updating your electrical wiring and incidentally updating other aspects of the building’s interior? If you’re going to start ripping up and replacing things, “taking it down to the studs,” or otherwise remodeling and renovating your workplace, be aware that these activities can expose workers to four hazardous substances they might not otherwise encounter.
During normal conditions of use, most of these materials will be enclosed, encapsulated, or otherwise nonhazardous. Asbestos, for example, probably isn’t causing significant exposures if it’s behind walls or in solid floor tiles. When you start taking a building apart, though, these materials can be released and rendered airborne.
To protect workers during remodeling and renovation—not to mention assuring compliance with hazardous waste disposal regulations—employers or contractors that are about to tear into a building must first identify, remove, and arrange for the proper disposal of hazardous chemicals that may be inside. Four chemicals are of particular concern: mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), lead, and asbestos. If present, they should be removed intact where possible (for example, mercury switches and ballasts can often be removed intact) or removed using appropriate safe work practices (to remove lead paint or asbestos, for example), and disposed of safely.