Mitigating HazMat Risks on K-12 Construction Projects

At the beginning of April each year, experts and victims from around the world recognize Global Asbestos Awareness Week. Since asbestos is a known carcinogen and there is no safe level of exposure, Asbestos Awareness Week seeks, in part, to help prevent asbestos exposure through education and awareness and increase compliance and enforcement of existing laws and regulations.

In honor of this important goal, EBA Engineering considers hazardous materials consulting services and their particular importance to K-12 school construction and renovation projects. As a growing number of aging K-12 facilities undergo construction and renovation projects nationwide, properly managing and abating hazardous materials, including asbestos-containing materials, is essential.

A variety of hazardous materials can be present in any public, industrial, commercial, or residential building, and these materials could be impacted during renovation/demolition activities. However, K-12 projects are particularly susceptible to hazardous materials concerns. Typically, K-12 school facilities are much larger than other facilities, and the types and quantities of hazardous materials present are also greater.

The most common types of hazardous materials in schools include asbestos-containing materials, lead in paint, universal wastes, ozone-depleting compounds, and PCBs. These types of hazardous materials come from construction materials and building finishes, as well as operational equipment such as lighting fixtures, power supply equipment, heating/cooling equipment, and piping/plumbing. Other types of hazardous materials present in schools can include various chemicals for maintenance activities and fuel storage tanks for heating systems.

Benefit of hazardous materials abatement/mitigation to students, teachers, and staff

As construction materials, building finishes, and operational equipment age, the risk of exposing building occupants to hazardous materials increases. The abatement/mitigation of hazardous materials protects building occupants from exposure and potentially harmful health effects and illnesses.

One example includes asbestos-containing surfacing materials, such as plaster, applied to building walls and ceilings. As the plaster ages and is physically damaged, the material can become friable, and asbestos-containing fibers can become airborne. If these fibers are released into the air, building occupants are at risk of exposure to asbestos. It’s therefore crucial to properly abate damaged plaster to eliminate exposure to asbestos.

Best practices for conducting hazardous materials surveys

Based on our experience providing hazardous materials consulting services for K-12 renovation and demolition projects, we offer the advice below.

  • It’s critical to conduct a comprehensive survey and identify hazardous materials prior to renovation/demolition to comply with regulatory standards for hazardous materials, such as asbestos; relay pertinent information affecting the project to bidders; ensure the accuracy of bids; and avoid change orders and project delays during construction.
  • Design firms and owners must allow ample time in the design stage to complete a comprehensive survey that accurately identifies the locations and quantities of affected hazardous materials.
  • Specifications for the abatement/handling of hazardous materials during demolition and/or renovation should be tailored to the specific project and should be prepared by the firm conducting the survey. The use of “off-the-shelf” specifications must be avoided to prevent requests for information (RFIs), construction delays, and change orders.
  • Hazardous materials surveys and design specifications must be prepared by qualified professionals.

The improper handling of hazardous materials during demolition or renovation activities can release harmful substances into the environment and put the public at risk. It is also a violation of numerous federal and state regulations. On all projects, it is critical to adhere to best practices and laws for hazardous materials mitigation and abatement.

James Sines is the Environmental Engineering Department Manager for EBA Engineering, Inc. He can be reached at 410.504.6112,, or on LinkedIn.


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James Sines