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QUESTION: Is it safe for my family to remain in the house during demolition of an asbestos-containing kitchen ceiling? - 14 Sep 2007 England, United Kingdom

My local council says my kitchen ceiling has to come down as it contains asbestos i have 5 children and i am not happy about staying in the house while the work is being done my daughter has asthma and as it is the kitchen I'm worried about all the dust left after. is it safe for my family to remain in the house or should we be moved out and when is it safe to return?

ANSWER: 17 Jun 2009

Dear Christina,

First of all, I apologize deeply for the tremendous delay in response to your question. For a while now, we have had a lack of staff who answer the incoming email.

What I would have said if I had answered in a timely fashion, is that it is essential, when dealing with either asbestos fibres or lead contaminated dust (which accumulates in the ceiling void - the source is air pollution, especially motor vehicle traffic emissions - and sits on top of the ceiling) that the ceiling demolition work is done in such a way that dust hazards are not created. Typically, this would mean that the contractors would create a hazard management plan which includes ensuring residents have vacated the building, removing every movable thing from the room under the ceiling to be demolished, closing and taping over all internal doors not required for access, laying and taping thick plastic sheeting over the horizontal surfaces in the room underneath the ceiling to be demolished, removing part of the roof tiles or tin to gain access to the ceiling void, vacuuming the ceiling dust with a truck- or trailer-mounted HEPA industrial vacuum, encapsulating the asbestos-containing ceiling in plastic on the underside and then wetting down (with fine water spray) the topside of the ceiling and encapsulating it in plastic and causing it to fall as much as possible contained by the plastic, fully wrapping the asbestos-containing ceiling debris in the plastic that was taped to the floor etc and carting it outside and finally HEPA-vacuuming the area that was not sealed off from the demolition. If this kind of hazard management plan was in place, the building may have been safe for you to take up residence on the same day. If dust was permitted to escape from the demolition work, it may take up to a week for that dust to settle so that it can be HEPA vacced and all surfaces wet-cleaned prior to the home being habitable again.

Can I ask what actually happened and whether any blood lead testing was done prior to or after the ceiling demolition work? It is always useful to know childrens' and adults' blood lead levels so, even now, you could ask your doctor to do these tests, especially on the younger children. I hope this helps and that you can write back to let me know how close to ideal your demolition contractors were.

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O’Brien

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