Asbestos rules burn builders

LINCOLN CITY — New state regulations being imposed on old asbestos building products are likely to cause widespread repercussions in housing markets and the construction trades, raising demolition costs to homeowners and contractors.

The high price of asbestos disposal is already affecting customers at North Lincoln Sanitary Service, where operators of its Anderson Creek landfill last month stopped accepting debris that is not certified as asbestos-free.

Moreover, handling costs for contaminated building materials — roofing, tile, flooring, ceilings, carpets, sheetrock and scores of other products typically encountered in home remodeling — have skyrocketed.

Lon French, general manager of North Lincoln, said the cost of disposal for common construction debris that has not been “surveyed” or flunks the asbestos test has climbed from $16 per cubic yard to $100.

“It costs considerably more, but at least you can bring a load in and you don’t have to call an abatement contractor,” said French, who puts the double-wrapped debris in special containers for shipment to a landfill in Hillsboro, one of a handful of sites in Oregon authorized to accept asbestos.

In a 2018 fiscal impact statement filed by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, regulators estimated the average cost of an asbestos survey to be $450 to $650. Under the new rules, the assessment is required on all demolition — a common first step in remodeling — of residential dwellings erected prior to 2004.

The regulations also apply to recreational vehicles and manufactured homes of the same vintage.

Marilyn Bull of Rickreall-based Bullseye Environmental Services is one of the few technicians authorized to conduct asbestos surveys. Donning a hazardous-materials “space suit” and breathing apparatus, she methodically checks areas in building remodels that typically have asbestos

“I try to get to Lincoln County once a month, but the pressure from builders and homeowners is overwhelming,” she commented. “I’m working 12 or 14 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Once a survey is conducted and asbestos is confirmed, the new regulations call for “abatement” with a contractor certified to wet, wrap and dispose of contaminated debris.  A handful of contractors in Salem and Albany are the closest. Estimates for handling typical demolition debris range from $3,000 to $10,000.

“Asbestos was considered a miracle fiber at one time,” said French. “It didn’t crack or break, and it didn’t catch fire. It was put on tiles, roofs and flooring so your house wouldn’t burn. It was pretty amazing stuff, except it could cause cancer and kill you.”

Building industry experts say the higher costs could have unintended consequences, mainly among do-it-yourselfers and shady contractors who might burn the tainted debris or dispose of it in local forests.

“The new rules will add to the cost of housing in Lincoln County, primarily rental housing, and may cause an increase of illegal dumping,” predicted Jim Hoover, a Lincoln City builder. “When people are faced with the cost of an asbestos survey, even if there’s none present, and $100 a yard to dispose of it, you’re going to see some unintended consequences.”

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