Asbestos Abatement

I Do Asbestos Abatement

Words & Photos / Clayton Linden


Basically, we travel to towns and villages all over the state of Alaska to remove asbestos, building materials, and other hazardous items such as lead, mercury, gasoline in confined spaces, and the like. But we mainly focus on asbestos because there’s still quite a bit of it left up here. Asbestos containing materials were outlawed for use in building back in 1979, but sometimes regulations have a way of not reaching the Last Frontier as quickly as one would think. So, lucky me, there’s still a lot to remove.


My crew focuses on government buildings, schools, hospitals, and military bases. They pay better due to the Davis-Bacon Act, which regulates the pay of construction workers on government property. In just one year of working as an asbestos abater, I have been to Kodiak, Emmonak, Fairbanks, Delta Junction, Metlakatla, Ketchikan, and Sitka. And that doesn't even compare to some of my coworkers who have been to hundreds of rural villages throughout the state that most other Alaskans haven't even heard of. I bet a lot of people don't know that Alaska has a full-fledged Native Reservation, complete with a casino and everything. Just slots and bingo, but a casino nonetheless.

Most of my joy comes from all the traveling I get to do for this job, being able to see so much more of the state that I was born and raised in. Well, actually, I’m lying. The most joy I get is when I see that paycheck.

I’ve had many jobs before I started working with asbestos. From college student to car salesman, landscaper to working at a Laundromat, snowboard filmer to bartender. Hell, I even managed a small restaurant at one point. But none of those compare to what it’s like being an asbestos abater. It was a difficult transition, from bartending in Portland at a club with 300 plus people a night, surrounded by beautiful women, gangsters, hipsters, and hippies, to working in remote villages on a five man crew, sharing hotel rooms with smelly abaters. I used to wake up whenever I liked, head in to work around 9 pm and get off at 4 or 5 am; a night full of music and laughs, with whiskey and cocaine sprinkled on top. Now, I wake up at 5 am. I’m at the truck by 6:40, work starts at 7 and we get off usually around 6 pm. There is a distinct lack of women, whiskey and all the other stuff. It might sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not, it’s amazing how quickly you can change your life and get used to anything. I still have my fun, but it’s quite a bit healthier and a hell of a lot less habitual.


We’ll head out to a town or a village for as long as 2-3 months. Sometimes you’re in an area where you can’t spend a dollar, or if you can it’s at some shitty fry stand with months old reheated chicken strips or four expired off brand energy drinks and three bags of chips. At least there’s no whiskey to tempt me, or if there is, it’s illegal, and $300 for a fifth.

Coming back to town after working out in the Bush is always a struggle for me. Imagine a 26-year-old running from alcohol and substance abuse. Now, imagine that same person returning from work with not just one, but two pockets full of money. And it doesn't help that the Anchorage airport is so close to The Bush Co. After being socially annexed from all your friends and family the shock of coming back can sometimes be overwhelming. "Why wouldn't I buy that drug?" "Why wouldn't I spend $1,000 tonight?" The rationale I always bring myself back to is, “I’ve just lived a very healthy life for the last month or so, so it won’t hurt to be a little bad for the night.” This is the cycle I feel many itinerant workers face. You work, literally, every day with little to no socialization. Then you return to civilization with too much money to spend. Some buy toys, some buy drugs, some buy their friends shots. Some go on trips and not enough save and invest. And don't think I’m preaching here. I’m guilty of them all. The thing is, there is always the promise of more money. And I always tell myself that "I’ll make the money back" or "I make that in two hours."

After binging for however long before my next hitch, I look around and see empty baggies and drained bottles of whisky. Now don't send me to rehab just yet, it’s not always Fear and Loathing in Alaska, but the temptation has a tendency to linger and sometimes you end up with a headache and an empty bank account. I can't lump everyone into this category, I can only speak for myself. With the promise of more dollars on the horizon, it’s pretty damn easy to lose foresight.

Do I regret the money I spent last year? More money than I’ve ever had in my life. Sure, a little bit. But I had fun doing it, with amazing friends, saw some incredible sights, traveled a bit, and generally enjoyed myself. And, somehow, I’ll make it back. So have a shot on me because you don't have to work on the North Slope to be Slope Rich.