Asbestos Misconceptions Unveiled

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As published in the May 2018 Issue of PMA Bulletin

ECS personnel often run across common misconceptions or distortions of the facts; whether it’s asbestos, lead based paint, mold, etc. In this post, we’ll catalogue a few of the misconceptions relating to asbestos. I will try to clear up some of the confusion surrounding this topic.

Misconception #1: The manufacture and use of asbestos in the US has been banned.

Answer: No, not really.

In 1989 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) attempted to ban manufacture and use of most asbestos containing products in the U.S. by issuing a final rule under Section 6 of Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) banning most asbestos-containing products. In 1991 this was vacated in a landmark court case after the rule was contested by the asbestos industry (Corrosion Proof Fittings v U.S. EPA). Subsequently, asbestos can be still found in some construction materials, such as roofing products, gaskets, brakes, etc.  In general, however, it is true, that the widespread use of asbestos has significantly declined since the 1960s and 1970s.

Misconception #2:  New buildings or buildings constructed after 1985 are not required to have an asbestos survey prior to renovation or demolition.

Answer: No.

US EPA regulations under NESHAP (National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants – 40 CFR 61 Subpart m) require an asbestos survey prior to renovation/demolition regardless of the age of construction. Per the U.S. EPA regulation, “The owner or operator of a demolition or renovation activity, and prior to the commencement of the demolition or renovation, will thoroughly inspect the affected facility or part of the facility where the demolition or renovation operation will occur for the presence of asbestos.”

Misconception #3:  Residential buildings are exempt from U.S. EPA NESHAP requirements.

Answer: Yes and no.

The U.S. EPA does have an exemption for an isolated residential structure with four or fewer units. The demolition or renovation of any isolated (single) small residential building with four or fewer dwelling units by any entity is not covered by the Asbestos NESHAP. Also exempted are privately-owned individual homes not demolished for urban renewal or as part of a public or commercial project (multiple building structures demolished are subject to the NESHAP). The residential building exemption does not apply when multiple (more than one) small residential buildings on the same site are demolished or renovated by the same owner/operator as part of the same project, or where a single residential building is demolished/renovated as part of a larger project that includes demolition/renovation of non-residential buildings. The residential building exemption was not designed to exempt larger demolitions/renovations on a particular site, even where residential buildings are involved.

Misconception #4:  Materials containing less than 1% of asbestos content are exempt from EPA regulations under NESHAP.

Answer: Yes.

The EPA only regulates asbestos containing materials whose content is determined to be greater than  one percent asbestos by weight through laboratory analysis. Please note, however, that even though EPA does not regulate removal or disturbance of these materials, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) still regulates materials that contain trace levels of asbestos as discussed in the November 24, 2003 OSHA guidance document (Compliance Requirements For Renovation Work Involving Materials Containing Less Than 1% Asbestos). This includes, but is not limited to, removing these materials using wet methods, proper personal protective equipment (PPE), proper training, and the placement of the material(s) in leak tight containers prior to disposal. Trace materials, however, may be disposed of with regular construction debris from a site as non-asbestos per the U.S. EPA interpretation.

In conclusion, it is vital that building owners, contractors, and environmental professional understand the regulatory requirements for asbestos in buildings. In addition to federal regulations, many states also have specific unique regulations that also need to be followed. ECS also has experienced staff who can be relied on to help. Contact us for more information.


Author:  Chris Chapman, CIH

Chris has worked in the industrial hygiene field for almost 30 years and has been the Director of Industrial Hygiene for ECS Mid-Atlantic, LLC for the past seven years. He graduated in 1996 from the Medical College of Virginia with a Master’s in Biomedical Engineering. His most challenging and important project was when he was the Safety and Health Officer for all of the remediation efforts following the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. Currently Chris enjoys mentoring the ECS staff that wishes to go further in the field of Industrial Hygiene. Outside the office, Chris and his wife Elise enjoy coaching and helping with their son’s baseball teams, as well as volunteering at their church.