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Fun Fact Friday: Cost Estimating for Hazardous Materials

By June 14, 2019No Comments3 min read

Encorus Group offers cost estimating services for projects, and one of the most important construction costs to consider is hazardous materials identification. This may come as a surprise, but there have been multiple situations in which projects experience significant cost increases and timeline delays due to unidentified hazardous materials.

Lead is often one of the first things that comes to mind when someone mentions hazardous materials. This was often included in paints before the 1970s. To determine whether there is lead in a material, a scratch test can be performed and sent to a laboratory for chemical analysis. One analysis method is using X-ray fluorescence, known as XRF testing. This is a non-destructive and cost-effective alternative to performing a scratch test. This will not give you a concentration of lead in the sample, but is used as a presence or absence indicator.

Asbestos was widely used in construction from the 1900s to around 1975. It can be found in insulation, caulk, mastic, and tiles. This material can cause several illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, or interstitial fibrosis.

There are two types of asbestos: friable and non-friable. Friable asbestos can break apart and become airborne. A good example of friable asbestos is the popcorn ceilings seen in residential and commercial buildings. This is the type of asbestos that you should worry about. Non-friable asbestos is more cemented and less likely to go airborne.

The most effective way to test for asbestos is microscopy. Within microscopy, there are three testing methods that can be used: PLM, or Polarized Light Microscopy, TEM, Transmission Electron Microscopy, and SEM, Scanning Electron Microscopy. These will be able to differentiate between which types of asbestos are on site, and what concentrations they are in within the samples. This will lead design of the abatement which will be required on site.

There are also tests to determine whether a material contains Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). These are managed by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The main threat of PCBs is the chance of causing cancer in humans. PCBs have been commonly found in caulk, electrical insulation fluid, and other materials that date back to the 1970s. Materials are usually scraped for a sample and tested in a laboratory to determine if there are PCBs present.

Many construction companies may not consider to test for hazardous materials, which leads to greater costs when the hazardous materials must be abated further into the construction process. In an effort to save money and increase efficiency, Encorus recommends that a hazardous materials investigation should be conducted to determine if any action needs to be taken before the majority of the construction processes commence. If you or your company requires any cost estimating services, contact Director of Engineering Design Tom Gilmartin at (716) 592-3980 ext 124 or