Celebrating 25 Years!

Today we celebrated the 25th anniversary of Masek Consulting Services, Inc. We thank all of our fine clients for the many and continuing opportunities to help them save money and reduce their liabilities at thousands of properties of all types! 25-years-1991-to-2016-gold-logo

Seismic Retrofits of Apartments – Beware of Asbestos & Lead Regulators

The first step in the retrofit process is having us inspect the building(s) for asbestos and lead. We can inspect just the areas to be disturbed by the retrofit work quickly and at low cost. This is all very routine, but is mandatory, as there are numerous regulations and regulators involved.

On 5/20/2016, Steven Harrison with the City of Los Angeles stated: “Should your seismic retrofit project require a disturbance of materials suspected to contain or known to contain lead and or asbestos, you would be required to do testing and supply copy of the results at any point prior to or during the project.” This is part of the mandatory Tenant Habitability Plan needed to obtain a seismic retrofit permit.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, under an agreement with US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates asbestos using their Rule 1403. It requires asbestos surveys and notification to SCAQMD prior to any renovation or demolition involving over 100 square feet of materials, even if no asbestos is present. SCAQMD refers violations to the EPA. SCAQMD may arrive unannounced.

EPA and OSHA may levy fines as high as $37,500 per day and violators may also be sent to federal prison. Charles Yi of Los Angeles is a good example, as he went from being owner of a 204-unit apartment complex to serving four years in federal prison. Cal-OSHA, CDPH, Los Angeles County, and City Inspectors may also levy fines and seek jail sentences. Owners with simple paperwork violations of lead regulations have been made to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on removal work. Few owners are proud of being caught, so many keep it secret.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health regulate asbestos and lead by requiring specific training and detailed procedures. OSHA and Cal-OSHA regulate work with all materials containing more than zero asbestos.
The regulations require that all asbestos removal work for seismic retrofits be conducted within regulated areas, with all of the related requirements for demarcation, signs, respirators, and so forth. All asbestos work performed within regulated areas must be supervised by a “Asbestos Contractor-Supervisor,” as defined in the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act signed by President Reagan, 40 CFR 763.

For apartment buildings built prior to 1978, federal EPA, OSHA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Cal-OSHA regulations require that all paint be assumed to be lead-based paint unless a properly trained and State certified (licensed) environmental consultant has tested it and found otherwise. The California Department of Public Health and EPA certify (license) inspectors and contractors and have very detailed requirements for notifications and other procedures.

Los Angeles County prohibits lead-based paint which is peeling, flaking, or chipped or on a surface which may be chewed, ingested, or inhaled in dwellings inhabited by a child under seven years of age.

We are a landlord owned company in our 25th year of helping people stay out of trouble and have earned our reputation as a provider to top-quality services at highly competitive prices. We’d much prefer more education and less regulation, but all of us have to deal with the current reality. Please contact us to discuss inspecting your buildings. Kindly visit our web site to see some of our apartment industry magazine articles: http://masekconsulting.net/news/

Information on laws and regulations is provided as a convenience, not as a substitute for proper legal advice and review of the entire text of the applicable laws and regulations.

Asbestos Is Old News?

If you think asbestos is old news for apartment owners and managers, think again. It is very common, and easy to manage properly, but the regulators are as dangerous as ever. They are enforcing federal regulations, so it is more appropriate to think of them as like the IRS than like a traffic cop writing a ticket, or a city inspector. Consider these examples:

In May a property manager client called my company because tenants in a unit where a small repair had been done were complaining about asbestos. A small area of ceiling texture had been disturbed. The tenants had the acoustic ceiling texture and drywall joint compound in their unit sampled and both contain asbestos. When we arrived, the tenants pointed to every little bit of white paint dust and such on the plastic laminate flooring in the unit. They had also read various things about asbestos on the Internet. The management company is now having their maintenance and management people trained to properly deal with asbestos, something every owner or manager who works on apartment buildings should do.

My company recently received a call from an apartment owner after a South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) inspector found illegal asbestos disturbances in an 11-unit apartment building undergoing renovation. We had previously performed lead-based paint inspections of his buildings. The workers had scraped asbestos ceiling texture throughout the building and ripped up sheet vinyl flooring and vinyl floor tile, dumping the waste in the regular trash bin. Worse yet, the owner had hired a “contractor” who was unlicensed, making the workers his employees. We had to explain to the owner, who had recently bought four buildings on the street, that the penalties could include hundreds of thousands of dollars of fines, the expenses to excavate a portion of the landfill, since much of the waste had already been hauled by the trash company, time in federal prison, and lawsuits by the workers. We suggested that he find some very good attorneys and hope for leniency.

Last year we received a call from a management company after a calamity at an apartment building had disturbed ceilings and walls in some units. We found that the ceiling materials in the units did contain asbestos. One of the concerned tenants had already called the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Unfortunately, the owner and manager had not obtained an asbestos survey of the building, and had not had their people properly trained, so they moved the contaminated belongings of one pregnant tenant to a different unit, spreading the contamination. She was very concerned, and was also scouring the Internet for information on asbestos. The icing on the cake in this calamity following the initial calamity was that the insurance company for the contractor who had caused the calamity did not want to pay, as their policy, as with most, excluded asbestos, and the insurance company for the owner also did not want to pay for much of the clean-up project costs.

Charles Yi, who owned a 204 unit apartment building, was sentenced to federal prison for four years for failure to use proper procedures or trained personnel to scrape asbestos ceiling texture, and lost his appeals. He apparently obtained bids for proper removal of the ceiling texture, did not want to spend what it took to do it properly, so hired unlicensed and untrained workers to scrape the material, contaminating the building and neighboring properties. He went from wealthy to broke and in federal prison. I mentioned this example at the mold, asbestos, and lead seminar I presented at AAGLA headquarters and one woman though I had made it up! I referred her to the Internet, where the details are public information.

My company inspected a large factory complex with an office building loaded with asbestos. Not long thereafter, a reporter from LA Weekly called to interview me and I learned that the entire complex had simply disappeared, without even a city demolition permit! We had inspected other properties for this major regional property owner, and they had hired licensed asbestos abatement contractors. I understand that two senior executives of the company went to federal prison. How were they caught? Apparently, people working nearby wondered about what was happening and called the regulators.

So much for saving a relatively few dollars.

Why don’t you know of more owners and mangers who have been caught violating asbestos laws and regulations? The answer is another question: Do you think owners and mangers who are caught will want to talk about it, or want to keep quiet?

The dangers of asbestos are very real, and have been known for a century (see the book Magic Mineral To Killer Dust). It is reported that people working with asbestos in the 1930s had problems buying life insurance. Thus, it was no surprise that asbestos was one of the first things the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), now a cabinet department, started regulating in the early 1970s. The same with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the Department of Labor. In southern California, EPA has an arrangement with the SCAQMD to regulate asbestos. Cal-OSHA also regulates asbestos. Some cities may ask about asbestos before issuing building permits, but they do not regulate it.

Apartment owners, managers, and contractors have to assume that any materials which might contain asbestos do contain it until a California Certified Asbestos Consultant (the certification started in 1992) has performed a proper asbestos survey. Many people think of acoustic ceiling texture or insulation on hot water and steam heating system piping when asbestos is mentioned, but those are just two of the many common building materials made with asbestos. In general, anything which is not wood, metal, plastic, or glass could contain asbestos. The most common materials are drywall joint compound, acoustic ceiling texture, sheet vinyl flooring, heating and air conditioning ducts, exterior stucco, vinyl floor tile, mastics (adhesives) for floor tile, mirrors, and ceiling tile, window putty, vents or flues, and roofing. Numerous less common materials may also contain asbestos.

Apartment Age 2014 Asbestos Article chart

If any asbestos containing materials are found, a simple asbestos management plan will prevent improper disturbances and track the materials which contain asbestos. There is no need to remove materials which are in good condition and which do not need to be disturbed. Only properly licensed, equipped, and ensured contractors or employees should be allowed to disturb or remove materials which contain asbestos. People who work near or contact asbestos need simple two hour awareness training. Those who perform small disturbances incidental to performing other work need 16 hour training, and proper equipment and supplies. Purposeful removal requires hiring a licenses asbestos abatement contractor.

Here is a condensed version of this article published in Apartment Age:
MCSI July 2014 Apartment Age Asbestos article

Happiness From Seismic Retrofitting

The St. Patrick’s Day earthquake was a reminder that most apartment buildings in southern California have not yet been subjected to high loads from an earthquake. There have been earthquakes, but only certain areas were subjected to high shaking forces. The upcoming mandatory seismic retrofits of many thousands of apartment buildings with “soft” lower levels which will fail when subjected to significant earthquake forces has many positive aspects:

● Since the retrofits will be mandatory, all owners of such buildings will be in the same boat, with none having a competitive advantage or disadvantage relative to other owners of such buildings;

● Once the buildings are retrofitted, there is no reason for potential tenants to shun such unsafe buildings in favor of buildings which have no soft lower level or which have been voluntarily retrofitted;

● Owners will not need to be worry so much about the potential for injured or dead tenants and the resulting moral responsibility and lawsuits, nor the loss of income and equity when the buildings collapse;

● The engineers, consultants, and contractors needed for such work are specialist professionals, so owners of relatively small apartment buildings will enjoy the same levels of professionalism routinely expected by owners of much larger office, commercial, government, and institutional buildings.

Published estimates indicate that 20,000 apartment buildings will need to be retrofitted. All owners of apartment buildings with soft lower levels would be wise to begin planning immediately, as the cost of the retrofit work will surely rise when such a large number of buildings need to be retrofitted prior to the deadline. The initial consulting and engineering work is inexpensive enough that owners should be able to take it out of their cash flow.

The first step is having a California Certified Asbestos Consultant and California Lead Inspector to perform at least a limited asbestos and lead survey of the areas of the building which will need to be modified. The contractors involved with seismic retrofitting projects are far above the “one old truck and a few tools” types, so they will expect asbestos and lead-based paint to be properly addressed. They and the engineers have got far too much to loose to risk the big fines or jail time associated with violations, plus the moral obligation to protect their employees and apartment occupants from exposures to asbestos and lead (the dangers of asbestos have been know for a century, and Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter regarding the dangers of lead, so these issues are not new and the dangers are real).

Many owners have already had their entire buildings inspected for asbestos and lead, but owners who have not yet had their buildings inspected would save money by having the entire building inspected while the consultant is there. Only the areas to be disturbed must be inspected for asbestos and lead. The cost of the limited inspections is a minor part of the overall project cost, typically $600 to $1,000. The cost of inspecting the entire building varies depending on the age (more for pre-1960 buildings), number of units, and number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but is typically $2,000 to $3,300.

In many buildings, the only way the seismic engineers are able to obtain sufficient information on the existing structure is to make relatively small inspection holes. Just making those holes would require assuming that asbestos and lead are both present, and compliance with numerous federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Cal/OSHA (California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or DOSH), federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) regulations, so that is why the limited asbestos and lead surveys should be done first. The SCAQMD regulators are local and active, and many cities require that asbestos and lead surveys be performed before issuing building permits.

Fortunately, properly handling any asbestos containing materials and lead-based paint identified has become routine. If any abatement (removal) is needed, such as removal of some asbestos containing stucco to access portions of the structure in the carport area, that work by a licensed abatement contractor is often only $2,500 to $5,000.

The next step is have a licensed structural engineer who is a seismic specialist and state licensed structural engineer inspect the building and design the retrofit work. Here owners have some choices, as they may choose to go beyond the base requirements to minimize earthquake damage to their building and their cash flow. The base requirements will be designed to prevent collapse, not to minimize damage and disruption of tenancies. The engineer will work with them to consider design alternatives which offer the owner’s preferred mix of cost, appearance, and functional/operational impact. This engineering work is also only several thousand dollars.

Once the plans and specifications have been completed, licensed contractors who perform retrofit work are invited to a job walk to see the building and the job site conditions, then submit firm-fixed bids for performing the work. It is important that the bids be firm, fixed price, and reference the plans and specifications, so there are no costly delays or change orders during construction. After receiving the bids, the owners will know the cost of the retrofit, and will be able plan and budget for that improvement work. Many owners will be able to save money by combining the retrofit work with other maintenance or improvement work such as exterior repainting or re-piping.

In most of the buildings which need to be retrofitted, all or parts of the tuck-under parking will be unavailable while the work is being done. Owners also need to plan for temporary replacement parking, perhaps by making arrangements with a nearby parking lot or parking structure operator. The impact on parking is another good reason to perform the retrofit work immediately, rather than waiting until numerous buildings in the same neighborhood are being retrofitted at the same time.

Here is the version of this article published in Apartment Age:
MCSI Apartment Age Article April 2014

Point Counting Hides Reality

In 1995 we performed one of the first negative exposure assessment trials allowed by the 1994 OSHA asbestos regulations. The results showed that high levels of asbestos fibers were released from dry demolition of drywall with joint compound reported to contain less than 1% asbestos – an average of 0.25 fibers per cubic centimeter of air. They also showed that point counting hides this reality. That is now well known amongst the best consultants, but not in 1995, as that was before the now rampant inappropriate use of point counting for non-friable materials.

An insurance company had purchased a 50-some story high rise building constructed in 1974/5. They thought they had purchased a building free of asbestos. Indeed, the plans for the building are prominently marked with wording prohibiting use of asbestos. One of our competitors was first hired, and they were finding less than 1% asbestos content in the drywall joint compound, but apparently did not have a good working relationship with the managers. The managers then hired Dames & Moore (now part of AECOM), and they in turn hired us to handle the project for them due to our extensive expertise and well-established business relationship providing asbestos and lead-consulting for them in California. In 1994 we performed a complete asbestos survey of the building. While the structural steel fireproofing does not contain asbestos, we did find it in drywall joint compound in much of the building, vinyl floor tile, and flooring mastics.

We planned and designed the negative exposure assessment trial. A licensed asbestos abatement contractor,TEG (now part of NorthStar Group Services, Inc.) was hired, and they built a negative pressure containment to perform dry removal of drywall with all of the PLM joint compound results less than 1%, simulating what would happen in normal demolition work. The workers wore high-level respiratory protection (full-face supplied air respirators).

Since the owners thought they had bought an asbestos-free building, they and the managers were very anxious, so they hired another consulting company, Law / Crandall (merged into MACTEC, then AMEC) to also run air samples during the negative exposure assessment, with us as the lead consultant. We agreed with Law / Crandall to use the same laboratory. A total of 30 air samples were collected, with each consulting company collecting different total air volumes. Of the 30 samples, 11 were readable by the laboratory, with the following results from Transmission Electron Microscope analysis, expressed as fibers per cubic centimeter of air: 0.2456, 0.4592, 0.3200, 0.087, 0.16, 0.21, 0.13, 0.18, 0.27, 0.43, and 0.27. The average was 0.25 fibers per cc.

We also collected 20 samples of the drywall joint compound which had been demolished, and submitted them for PLM point counting (400 points), for a total of 8,000 points. There was an asbestos fiber on just one point, and 5 off point. Counting 1,000 points per sample, as some now try to do, would surely not have made a significant difference. The correlation between the air sample results and the point counting results is very low.

The negative exposure assessment gave the managers the solid information they needed to justify spending the money needed for abatement in areas being renovated for new tenants.

Despite the fact that the best consultants know that point counting of non-friable materials such as drywall joint compound is not appropriate, there are currently some consultants and laboratories promoting point counting as a way to avoid asbestos abatement. The laboratory prices for re-analysis of samples are:

$40 each sample for the most accurate method, the Transmission Electron Microscope Chatfield method
$35 for 400 point count without gravimetric reduction
$60 for 400 point count with gravimetric reduction
$60 for 1,000 point count without gravimetric reduction
$70 for 1,000 point count with gravimetric reduction
(all 3 day turn around prices).

That makes it obvious that the point counts are currently being used by ill-informed or corrupt consultants to hide the asbestos, as there is no cost justification for using them.

The laboratories used on the project were Southwestern Electron Microscopy & Environmental Laboratories, Inc., Forensic Analytical and Balsam Environmental Consultants (owned by Dames & Moore).

Historic Buildings from The Start

Masek Consulting Services, Inc. has assisted people with historic buildings from the very beginning. We understand such buildings and the special needs and requirements associated with them, and appreciate the many opportunities we have had to help people with them.

We have just completed asbestos and lead surveys of our latest historic building project, the Le Trianon apartment building in Los Angeles. The next steps will be planning, overseeing, and monitoring remediation work as part of a renovation of the building.

Trianon Apartment Building

Our first large project after we were founded in 1992 was at the historic Old Pacific Stock Exchange in Los Angeles, CA, where we performed a follow-on asbestos survey to identify numerous items missed by a previous consultant, another trend throughout our history (correcting flawed work by competitors). We then planned, oversaw, and monitored asbestos abatement work.

The Old Stock Exchange in Los Angeles

The Old Stock Exchange in Los Angeles

In 2011 we performed a follow-on asbestos, lead, and mold survey of the historic hotel on the March Air reserve Base in Riverside, California, Building 100. We were called to the building when the general contractor awarded the renovation contract realized they did not have anything close to a complete asbestos survey of the building. One of our competitors, working under contract with a giant engineering company in turn contracted with the Defense Department, had missed materials which cost an additional $250,000 to abate for renovation of the building. We also planned, monitored, and documented the abatement work.

March AFB Building 100 2011

In 2010 we performed an asbestos and lead survey of the Hellman building in Los Angeles, a historic steel-frame office tower. Plans for renovation of the building are currently being reviewed and we look forward to assisting with the project.

The Hellman Building at 125 W 4th Street in Los Angeles

The Hellman Building at 125 W 4th Street in Los Angeles

In 1998 we performed asbestos, lead paint and electrical PCB abatement inspections and managed abatement(removal) work at the former I. Magnin department store building at 475 S. Lake in Pasadena, CA

475 S lake Pasadena I Magnin 1998

California RRP Checklist

Here is our handy checklist to help you comply with the numerous requirements of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Renovation Repair, and Painting (RRP) regulation on lead-based paint (and dust from lead-glazed ceramic tile). Of course, this checklist is no substitute for reading the entire text of the applicable EPA and OSHA regulations.
California Lead RRP checklist

Apartment Asbestos, Lead-Based Paint, and Mold Seminar

For those who could not attend, here is our asbestos, lead-based paint, and mold seminar for apartment owners, managers, and contractors (or owners who do with themselves of with their own work crews)

Apartment Asbestos Lead and Mold Seminar Introduction

Apartment Asbestos Lead and Mold Seminar Lead part 1

Apartment Asbestos Lead and Mold Seminar Lead part 2

Apartment Asbestos Lead and Mold Seminar OSHA section

Apartment Asbestos Lead and Mold Seminar Asbestos section

Apartment Asbestos Lead and Mold Seminar Mold section

EPA Hearing On Expanding RRP To Public and Commercial Buildings

On June 26, 2013, Mr. F. Stephen Masek, president of Masek Consulting Services, Inc. testified at the Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Washington, DC on expanding their Renovation, Repair and Painting regulation to public and commercial buildings. This is his “slide” presentation, without speaker notes. Please contact us if you need more information.

Masek EPA RRP SlideShow