Historic Properties and Hazardous Materials

I discussed in a recent blog the importance of keeping the aesthetics of a historic building intact. Making sure that the look and overall presentation on a structure is preserved is very significant. This is especially true with landmark properties that have prominent and distinct features. Preservation can become very difficult when it entails obsolete building materials that contain hazardous materials that are typically removed and replaced. Three of the most common of hazardous materials is lead-based paint, asbestos and PCBs. In the USA, lead was used in paints up until 1978. It then was banned for its negative health effects, especially with children in their developing stages. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were banned from paints, caulking and surface coatings in 1979 and asbestos was banned in 1974. All these bans were due to the negative health and environmental effects of these products.

The American Can Company, a 335,000 square foot collection of six warehouses, constructed 1906-1929 in the heart of the historic Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans.

I’ve personally been involved with so many of these projects where the surface coating contained one if not all three of these banned hazardous materials. The presence of these materials can complicate and change the direction of the restoration of a building, especially if there is not a clear understanding of what these hazards are and how to best handle them. Most would recommend removing and replacing these materials, which entails the need to transport and store these materials in a hazardous material landfill.

But removing some of these materials can completely change the appearance of a building and sometimes alter its historic significance. This was the case with one of the high profile, historic structures. It had asbestos and PCB-containing roof that was badly leaking and the only remedy proposed was full removal and replacement. The biggest challenge with this option was that the materials that were originally used were no longer manufactured and any replacement product didn’t look the same. Removal and replacement would completely and drastically change the appearance of the building. This was not an option. The only logical path forward was to have an alternative that would meet the challenges of stopping the leaks, sealing in the hazardous asbestos materials and not altering the appearance of the roof.

A venerable Boston theater, The Boston Opera House is a Beaux Arts-style structure built in 1928, in the heart of Boston's theatre district. The gloriously restored stage as it appears today.

Due to the difficult nature and impact of removing these materials from any historic structures and surfaces and the complication of generating hazardous waste, it is best to simply in-place manage them in for a restoration. All that is needed is a system that not only preserves the overall looks, but also protects them from further and future degradation. Get the right green coatings to seal them in place, protecting and preserving these surfaces, while keeping the integrity along with historic looks, including maintaining significant colors.

To learn more on how to restore and preserve historical structures through in-place management, check www.encasement.com or send us a message at service@encasement.com.

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