So what do we do? Dig big holes and bury the very houses we live in? No. We have to change our mindset as to how we are going to prepare to do a project. Will it be more time consuming? Yes. Will there be more steps involved? Yes. Will we all benefit from the proper procedures during a project? Yes. Anytime that you are going to drill, cut, or grind something and you are not sure if it has asbestos, lead, or anthing else potentially harmful, here are some safety and protection steps to take.
Prepare the site: Hang plastic on door ways and over widows and cover the floor. 2 mil or greater will have the strength to take some abuse. Make sure and tape all seam to prevent dust from getting around the plastic. Make sure vents, returns and exhaust, are covered, we don't want that dust blowing back into the air once we are done. If a door way has to be used or is in a heavy traffic area, cut a slit in the plastic or spend a little money and get the self adhesive zippers to make access through the plastic. the main thing is to prevent the dust from spreading past the work area.
Protective gear: Wear a respirator or mask suitable for the job at hand, not those thin paper masks meant for painting, I'm talking an N95 with hot air exhaust or reuseable respirator with replaceable cartridges. Coveralls, Tyvek or suitable brand that covers to the wrists and ankles. Gloves, something nitrile and puncture resistant. Safety glasses, self explanitory. If your coveralls don't have a hood, then a hat of some kind that covers your hair and maybe the back of your neck. Boot covers, these may or may not be needed depending on your project. Hang warning signs that will tell people of the potential dangers, LEAD work in progress or High Dust Area or ASBESTOS. This will be a small investment, but the point of this is: 1) to protect you and your health and 2) so that you have something to remove and dispose of so that you don't take the dust and fibers home.
Work smart: Try and demo in one day so that clean up can begin as soon as possible. This will be especially important if your work area is in a high traffic zone. The longer removal takes the high the risk of dust and fibers contaminating areas outside the work zone. Use heavy duty trash bags or contractor bags for debris, use a HEPA vac to remove the air in these bags before closing them and tape them shut. Also, place discarded potective gear in bags and remove the air in the same way and tape shut. Remember to wash your hands and no food or drink allowed in the work area PERIOD.
Clean Up: This is a critical step, it is as important as the finished product. When you are ready for this step there should not be any demo work left to do. There should be dust and small debris on the plastic. How do we handle this, vacuum right? Use a HEPA vacuum to get up the dust and small debris, take down the plastic on the walls and over the windows and place it on the plastic on the floor. Our goal is to remove all the plastic from the house in one step. Fold everything up and place it in a contractor bag. Even the ground outside should remain clean from hazardous materials. Wipe down any horizontal surface that has dust on it, now the improvements can begin.
Lead and asbestos are fine where they are until they are disturbed or are in areas that have deteriorated. If you don't feel comfortable with any of these steps, seek out a professional for help. Remember, it's your health and the health of your family at stake.