The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Far East District (FED) Environmental Section has two accredited environmental laboratories: a chemistry laboratory and an asbestos laboratory. The chemistry laboratory was validated by the USACE Hazardous, Toxic, and Radioactive Waste Mandatory Center of Expertise in September 2004. The asbestos laboratory obtained the Industrial Hygiene Laboratory Accreditation from the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) on July 1, 2005, and has been audited every two years, maintaining accreditation.
With a total of five certified Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) inspectors and two asbestos analysts, FED’s in-house asbestos survey team has inspected more than 1,000 U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) buildings. It has analyzed thousands of samples, ensuring a safe environment for construction workers and facility occupants.
“Asbestos is a naturally-occurring fibrous silicate mineral, resistant to heat and corrosion and has not been used in building materials since 1980,” said Kim Kyong-ho, a FED chemist known as the ‘asbestos expert.’
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos was used in many types of home building products and insulation materials until the 1970s.
“Though it is illegal to use asbestos, according to the World Health Organization, at least 100,000 people are thought to die each year from cancer associated with asbestos,” said Kim.
Asbestos was widely used in construction as an effective insulator and added to other materials such as floor tile, drywall, ceiling tile, thermal system insulation, and spray-on coating. Breathing asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer and other diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.
“In the asbestos lab, we analyze the asbestos building materials and air samples for worker protection and environmental indoor air quality,” said Kim.
The asbestos test results are provided to the customer in the form of a report, which includes information such as asbestos location, amount, and conditions. When the building is renovated or demolished, this information is used to remove the asbestos.
If the experts find a need to remove building material, the FED environmental section provides asbestos removal services.
As an Environmental Protection Agency-certified asbestos contract supervisor, Kim is responsible for crafting the scope of work and contract packages, as well as award of the asbestos removal contract. This ensures that the customer receives the asbestos services that are necessary for their specific situation.
As the installations improve the quality of life for those that live, work, and play, personnel are relocated to new buildings, or older buildings are replaced with new construction. Before a building is demolished, the Asbestos team also assists in ensuring the protection of the workers and nearby neighbors.
"Asbestos still exists around us, but we cannot see it easily with our eyes. It can penetrate our bodies anytime and make you and your family sick," said Kim. “That is the reason why FED’s environmental input is critical—to provide environmentally safe, world-class facilities to all USFK personnel.”