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NEWS | March 21, 2024

USACE: Ensuring Safety Every Step of the Way

By Patrick Ciccarone, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Japan District

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Japan Engineer District (USACE JED) is the premier Department of Defense (DoD) military construction (MILCON) agent in the Pacific, providing facilities-related design and construction work in Japan for all military services and agencies.

With over 60 years of experience in designing and constructing facilities in Japan, JED possesses the experience in Japanese standards and specifications, regulations, construction practices, maintenance requirements, and culture needed to ensure facilities are built with the utmost safety and professionalism.

One of the ways JED embodies this culture of safety is through conducting hazardous material surveys, which help identify the existence and scope of soil or groundwater contamination (e.g., from petroleum, heavy metals, pesticides, or herbicides), as well as the presence in buildings of products such as asbestos, lead paint, or mold.

“A Hazardous Material Survey is a type of assessment performed to identify any potential hazards (asbestos, lead, Mercury) in facilities where renovation or demolition will occur,” said Steven Mow, JED’s Project and Program Management Division (PPMD) Chemist. “By identifying potential hazards, they can be mitigated or remediated prior to commencement of renovation or demolition activities for the purpose of protecting workers, future occupants, and the environment.”

By conducting thorough surveys before construction begins, in addition to routine building inspections throughout the construction process, JED can minimize and, in some cases, eliminate negative impacts on the environment, comply with regulations, and ensure the sustainability of our projects.

Before our team of professional engineers and construction workers breaks ground, though, hazardous material surveys are thoroughly conducted before the consideration to move families into their homes, or employees into their new facilities even takes place.

“The majority of the effort is in collecting bulk samples of various materials (e.g., flooring, adhesives, ceiling tiles, plaster walls, drywall, joint compound, roofing, fireproofing, thermal insulation, etc.) within the facility and submitting them to an accredited laboratory for analysis,” Mow explained. “A survey of a typical housing unit takes 1-2 hours, where approximately 40 samples of suspect asbestos-containing materials and 20 paint chip samples are collected.”

Among some of the concerns of new facilities and homes is the presence of mold, in some cases the use of lead-based paint, and asbestos, fibrous minerals commonly used in insulation, fireproofing materials, and wallboards, which, if exposed for an extended period, can potentially increase the risk of developing mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Despite mold being an issue in more temperate locations of the country, and the use of lead-based paint being a thing of the past, they are nonetheless amongst the most common concerns.

As mentioned earlier, JED conducts routine building inspections, going through each facility with a fine-tooth comb, and testing for the presence of foreign materials.

Additionally, while asbestos has not been used to construct houses for several decades, conducting assessments to determine if trace amounts exist is commonplace in modern-day construction processes.

When JED’s environmental team conducts site assessments, asbestos, among other potentially harmful substances, is the first to be sought out.

“These inspections are critical as it allows us to establish what kind of mitigation measures will be necessary to address any hazardous materials that exist in these buildings prior to us doing work on them to rehabilitate them and bring them up to modern safety standards,” said JED Commander, U.S. Army Col. Gary Bonham. “The testing itself is perfectly safe and is done very carefully to ensure that no hazard is caused to the public as a result of the sampling.”

While customer and families’ concerns are considered from the beginning, the chances of encountering harmful amounts of asbestos in facilities and housing units are extremely low, due in part to stringent regulations and testing done to ensure the safest possible environments are created for servicemembers and their families, civilians, and Japanese host nation partners.

“There is minimal risk to the public,” offered Mow. “The likelihood of finding harmful chemicals or substances is tied to the age of a building [and therefore low.]”

JED’s commitment to maintaining the highest safety and testing standards means frequent inspections to ensure the utmost satisfaction and security for our customers and their families. For the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the safety of those they are entrusted to build for always comes first.