When everyday people hear the terms “abatement” or “remediation,” they seem almost interchangeable. To the average person who works outside the cleanup and restoration trades, the difference between remediation and abatement may seem nominal.
But if you work or run an organization that deals with toxic spills, brownfields, hazardous molds, and lead paint, knowing the sometimes-subtle differences can help you make informed decisions about safety measures and the right personal protective clothing.
What is Abatement?
Although the term “abatement” is used in a variety of industries, it speaks to a specific set of safety precautions and processes that permanently removes known hazardous material(s). At any given job site, hazardous materials can put the health of workers at risk.
The presence of contaminants such as mold, asbestos, and lead rank among the more prevalent reasons to wear abatement safety clothing and take measures to eliminate the threat.
Abatement typically involves removing the hazard from the environment or rendering it harmless in place. Health and safety regulations generally require property owners to bring in an abatement team to contain, remove, and properly dispose of the worst materials. Depending on a variety of factors, most notably the physical landscape, specialists generally follow these steps.
- Inspection and Testing: Abatement safety clothing must be worn while the questionable materials are reviewed and tested to determine critical abatement steps.
- Quarantine Area: Health hazards such as molds and asbestos usually call for the area to be cordoned off. Abatement specialists may hang polyethylene sheets to help prevent airborne particles from spreading and affecting other areas, people, and the environment. Only safety professionals wearing appropriate protection are allowed near the material.
- Encapsulation: This step places workers in close proximity to hazardous materials. Encapsulation involves coating and sealing the contaminant to ensure it cannot spread. It’s not unusual for items such as mold, lead, and asbestos to become airborne during the process.
Once the area is contained and the threat is encapsulated, workers place the objects in disposable polyethylene bags and tape them shut. The site may be wiped down with damp cloths, which must be bagged and removed. It’s also not uncommon for cleanup crews to deploy a HEPA vacuum or HEPA filters to clean the space thoroughly, including the air.
What is Remediation?
One of the reasons that people sometimes interchange the terms remediation and abatements stems from the fact the former usually includes the latter. Unlike abatement, the goal of remediation is to reverse, eliminate, or halt a process so that it no longer presents a clear and present danger.
Remediation includes the abatement of hazardous material, but it also involves planning to ensure the same problem does not happen again. For example, with mold growth abatement is a short-term solution because the hazard is related to moisture control issues in a structure. In this case, remediation is needed to take things a step further by also finding the source(s) of the moisture and eliminating them to prevent future mold growth.
It’s also important to keep in mind that remediation requires significant planning and location-specific steps. For example, the estimated 450,000 brownfields across the U.S. have been a priority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These mostly defunct former industrial sites are riddled with pollutants such as gasoline, oil, arsenic, asbestos, and volatile organic compounds, among many others.
The sheer breadth of the contaminants soaked into structures and soil makes abatement impractical. That’s why grants are available for remediation, effectively neutralizing human and environmental danger.
In many ways, remediation is far more complex than the abatement removal process. Although many toxins are removed, remediation focuses on correcting the issue and restoring buildings and land to habitable conditions.
Common Methods: Difference Between Remediation and Abatement
Whether a site requires abatement and remediation depends on the type of contamination and physical space. Lead, for example, generally involves abatement but not necessarily remediation. The reason is that once it has been encapsulated and removed, lead no longer poses a threat. A toxin such as arsenic infesting a brownfield would task cleanup crews with removal and threat neutralization. The difference between remediation and abatement is evident when you consider these unique processes.
Lead Paint Abatement
The Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 outlines methods to effectively eliminate the presence of this toxin that has been linked to debilitating health conditions. There are tried-and-true abatement processes that cleanup technicians are tasked with following.
- Replacement: This abatement step may involve taking entire sections of a structure and installing new ones. In terms of lead paint abatement, it’s a common practice to replace tainted windows and doors with new ones. This permanent solution also modernizes buildings.
- Enclosure: In some cases, barriers can be erected to prevent lead-paint dust and solids from being disturbed. Enclosures are typically made with underlayment, aluminum, vinyl, fiberboard, plywood, drywall, and other durable construction materials.
- Encapsulation: Lead paint caused widespread health problems mainly because it peeled and flaked. In some instances, it can be encapsulated using thick sealants in conjunction with mesh. Successful encapsulation provides an outer layer that will not easily chip.
It’s possible to remove lead paint by using approved tools and wearing appropriate abatement safety clothing and breathable masks. The EPA approves processes such as wet scraping, wet planning, electric heat guns, and HEPA-certified tools.
The EPA notes that moisture control is a key mold remediation safety measure. Hazardous molds flourish in warm, dark, damp places. Professionals start the process by identifying the moisture source and curing the issue.
Full containment is recommended by the EPA for mold-contaminated surface areas of more than 100 square feet or when there will be long-term exposure to mold. For full containment jobs, the EPA recommends a half-face or full-face air purifying respirator with P100 filter cartridges. Limited containment is recommended for areas with 10 to 100 square feet of mold contamination. An N-95 respirator is recommended for limited containment jobs.
After putting on appropriate remediation safety clothing, these are common steps.
- Dehumidification: Employ commercial-grade dehumidifiers to remove mist and moisture.
- Containment: Secure the area to prevent mold spores from infesting other areas or causing human health conditions.
- Treatment: Use agents that help lift it from surfaces, such as soda blasting (baking soda), before sanitizing impacted areas with antimicrobial compounds. Other common treatment methods include the use of chemical fogs, biocides, enzymes, UV light, heat, and ozone.
- Removal: Mold-infected materials must be removed from the premises.
Like the abatement process, remediation workers usually use HEPA vacuums to eliminate microscopic particles. But, the critical difference between remediation and abatement stems from strategies designed to prevent the hazard’s return. In this case, resolving the moisture problem removes the essential element molds need to survive.
Remediation and Abatement Processes that Put Workers at Risk
Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to ensure specialists wear protective clothing for remediation and abatement at all times, specific processes come with an inherent risk. This holds particularly true when dealing with lead, mold, and mass-scale brownfield operations.
When the first wave of specialists arrives at a contaminated site, toxins pose a significant risk. Workers should always wear disposable abatement and remediation safety clothing when establishing a secure perimeter.
Tearing down old factories or structures too far gone for rehabilitation sends unknown agents into the air. Inhalation is a major concern because breathing in asbestos may lead to lung cancer. When other hazardous materials enter the body, they can cause widespread organ damage. Certified N-95 masks, fit-tested respirators, and other protections may be necessary.
Harsh chemicals and soda blasting are used to remediate mold. It’s crucial that technicians wear protective clothing for remediation and abatement that covers their entire body, as well as breathable masks and eye protection.
Personal Protective Clothing Required for Remediation and Abatement
Companies that provide residential and commercial abatement and remediation services are tasked with providing a complete inventory of disposable personal protective clothing and equipment. It’s also vital to provide designated spaces to don and doff to avoid cross-contamination with street clothes. These are items that should always be available to cleanup professionals.
- Coveralls: Full-body disposable suits that deter chemical agents and dust particles from reaching the skin are necessary to protect front-line workers. The best personal protective clothing can be accessorized with respirator-fit hoods, and a sealable storm flap over the zipper. A storm flap over the zipper helps block particles from entering through the zipper. A sealable storm flap adds an extra layer of protection by sealing off the zipper and intrusion points from any particulates or liquids.
- Breathable Masks or Respirators: Asbestos, lead, and mold all pose particulate inhalation hazards. Depending on the level of contamination, workers may require an N-95 respirator, a half-face or a full-face air purifying respirator.
- Gloves: Protective gloves work best when they fit seamlessly with coveralls. It’s essential for organizations to invest in a line that provides a complete line of accessories.
To avoid cross-contamination, it’s also important for remediation and abatement professionals to adorn protective shoe coverings. Avoiding footwear contact with asbestos and lead helps prevent workers from carrying contaminants home.
Remediation and abatement operations typically stockpile a single source of disposable protective clothing that can be seamlessly accessorized as needed. International Enviroguard manufactures and distributes a complete line of disposable protective clothing and accessories that exceed industry standards.