Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was once widely used in the construction industry. It had dozens of applications because of its durability and heat-resistant qualities, and there was once a time when virtually any building contained some amount of asbestos. In fact, many buildings still contain asbestos. It is very good at what it does.
Unfortunately, asbestos becomes very dangerous when it is broken apart and becomes “friable” (easily crumbled). To repeat: Asbestos-containing products like ceiling tiles or shingles that have not been damaged do not present health risks to people. They are completely fine when not disturbed. If they are cracked or become friable, they pose serious health risks to everyone who might be in the vicinity.
Unfortunately, asbestos can be broken apart without a great deal of effort. This can happen due to water damage, aging, drilling, cutting, or striking the material containing asbestos. When this happens, asbestos is released in the form of dust and tiny fibers. These are then inhaled or swallowed by humans, provided they are not wearing protective gear. Once ingested, these particles burrow deep into the lungs and the digestive track where they can lead to several severe diseases that include asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. The latter is, unfortunately, very common. 31 Chambers Street, the archives for New York County's Supreme Court, has dedicated an entire room just to mesothelioma cases.
Because asbestos only presents a danger once the product that contains the asbestos has been damaged, it is imperative that landlords hire a “certified asbestos investigator” to check for the presence of the mineral before conducting any serious kind of work in a building that might kick up any dust or asbestos fibers. Local Law 76 of 1985 codified the procedure.
Generally speaking, the law states that you only need to hire a “certified asbestos investigator” if a potential project requires approval from the Department of Buildings (though there are some instances in which a project that doesn't fall under the purview of DOB will fall under that of the Department of Environmental Protection). Furthermore, if you are only doing work at a specific site within the building (the plumbing of a single apartment, for example), you do not need to have the entire building examined by the investigator. You only need to have them examine the area of the building where the work will be performed.
There are some exemptions to this rule. If the the area where the planned work will be performed was inspected for asbestos within the past two years and there was found to be no material containing asbestos, you do not have to have the area reexamined. The previous report filed by the inspector remains valid for that time and can be included with the other applications submitted to DOB. If the project area was inspected more than two years ago, the owner needs to simply submit a statement stating that no materials containing asbestos have been introduced to the building along with the previous form. Finally, buildings that were constructed after April 1, 1987 are also exempt, as asbestos had fallen into disuse by that time.
If you hire an investigator and they find very little or no asbestos, or if the planned work will disturb less than either 25 linear feet or 10 square feet of friable material containing asbestos, the site will be deemed “not an asbestos project.” The investigator will fill out and sign what is known as a “Not an Asbestos Project” form. Include this form when you file your plan approval application with the $47 filing fee.
However, if the investigator does find that the work will disturb more than either 25 linear feet or 10 square feet of friable material containing asbestos, then you will have to fill out the Asbestos Project Notification form and file it with the Department of Buildings when you file your plan approval application (filing fee amounts will depend on the amount of asbestos that will be disturbed and can be found on the above form).
If a project that will disturb asbestos will take place while tenants are occupying the building, you will have to file a tenant protection plan that includes specific methods on how the asbestos will be contained and how you will comply with all laws concerning asbestos abatement. It is best to hire a specialist to do this, as the regulations surrounding removal are extremely difficult for someone who is not a professional to comply with.
Furthermore, failure to comply is extremely expensive. Those who fail to properly remove and dispose of asbestos will be fined $25,000 and may face a year in jail.