Rex Crosland doesn't mind when his firm and a growing number of other companies tear out the work he painstakingly installed in buildings and boiler rooms along the Wasatch Front years ago.
A veteran insulation man for 45 years, Crosland installed asbestos insulation when it was the wonder product that couldn't be beat when it came to bonding, fire resistance and insulating qualities.Asbestos has since lost its glamour as cases of cancer and respiratory disease have been linked to the material. Small asbestos fibers have settled in the lungs of Crosland and others who worked daily with the stuff, but he prefers not to discuss the breathing problems and surgery he has undergone because of his insulating work.
Instead, Crosland, a principal of Rocmont Industrial Corp., prefers talking about something more upbeat, such as the multimillion-dollar market that now exists in removing miles of asbestos materials on ceilings or wrapped around pipes in buildings throughout Utah.
"The industry has certainly come full circle," he said. "The stuff never should have been on the market, and it will make it a better environment to remove it."
It's also bound to make a better financial future for Rocmont and other companies that are profiting from the nationwide movement to rid society of harmful asbestos. For some local firms asbestos removal brings another $2 million in revenue that wasn't there five years ago.
In addition to a growing number of firms removing asbestos, a swarm of inspectors, consultants, laboratories and equipment distributors are springing up to get a piece of the estimated $25 million to $50 million market in the Mountain West region.
Forecasts are that the asbestos abatement industry will continue to grow into the 1990s as compliance to federal and state removal programs steps up and the private sector gradually rids itself of what was once an asset but is now a liability.
"1989-90 will be the period when the work on schools will be done and if it catches on in other sectors then the growth will be tremendous, into 1992," predicts R.J. Sartori, president of Bullough Insulation and Supply Co.
Bullough, a 50-year-old insulation firm, and other local asbestos abatement companies entered the removal business about five years ago. Sartori said it was about that time that public awareness of asbestos hazards started to mushroom and removal requests began to filter in.
As asbestos insulation ages it deteriorates and crumbles. If inhaled, the microscopic fibers from flaking asbestos attach to the lining of lungs. The long-term effects of festering asbestos fibers can be cancer and respiratory diseases.
Although the market looks promising, asbestos removal isn't an easy business to get into - even if you previously installed the material for a living.
In addition to costly equipment and training, insurance premiums and bonding requirements can be prohibitive. Insurance per job costs an average of 15 percent of the gross revenue per job.
Brian Welty, manager of Power Master Inc. in Utah, said the company pays $1 million in insurance premiums annually.
Other costs include the clothing and equipment, much of which must be disposed of daily or after the project is finished. "The average cost per worker is about $40-$50 a day in throwaway gear," Welty said.
It's not glamorous work either, making employee turnover high, Rocmont President Rock Schutjer said, which can be expensive considering the mandated training and physicals for employees. Training for each Bullough employee costs $500 per year, Sartori said..
A heavily regulated industry, asbestos removers must follow strict guidelines on quarantining the site and workers from the public, maintaining air quality standards where the work is being done, and disposing of the hazardous wastes. About three-quarters of the time involved in a small project consists of setting up and taking down the airtight barriers constructed around the site, a Rocmont foreman said.
Welty said one of the trickier projects his company had was removing asbestos insulation from a local mall. To allow retailers to stay open, Power Master workers had to enter the building from the roof.
But for all their troubles, asbestos removers can make a handsome profit. Local firms gross from $1,200 to $800,000 per job depending on its size determined in square or linear feet.
Coupled with removal, and many times included in the fee, is the replacement of asbestos insulation with other material, such as fiberglass. In a typical removal and replacement job, about 60 percent of the revenue comes from removing insulation and 40 percent from installing new insulation, Sartori said.
"Sometimes customers laugh at us and say we're double dipping, since we probably put the asbestos insulation in a long time ago. But, at the time we didn't know it was bad," he said.
As the trend to remove asbestos grows, bidding on every project becomes competitive. As many as five in-state and five out-of-state firms can bid on a single large project, Sartori said.
Even the state has gotten into the act, hiring prisoners for a pilot program now removing asbestos from the State Office Building. The program has angered many private contractors, who claim state participation takes away business that could go to the private sector.
But Utah contractors are also finding business in neighboring states. Bullough, which serves Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada, will start in the Arizona market next year, Sartori said.
But, local firms don't go elsewhere because they lack work. In addition to schools and public buildings, industrial facilities are joining the trend to remove workplace hazards, and private building owners are removing asbestos from their properties.
"In the industrial sector, we haven't done 1 percent of the removal that's out there," Schutjer said.
He said much of the private work is driven by marketing considerations. As the public becomes more aware of asbestos hazards, warranted or not, a building that doesn't have it will fill up faster than one that does.
Sartori agrees. "If they know it's there, they will have to remove it to get occupants. Buildings will start advertising they are asbestos-free."