How the US EPA Regulates Asbestos

Posted on 12/10/2013 by Roseanne Bottone

The dangers of asbestos are well documented; it’s known to cause diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. Because of the hazards asbestos poses to human health and the environment, both the US EPA and OSHA regulate the safe handling and disposal of this material.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate, or mineral fiber, found in the Earth’s crust. It has many unique properties that made it a useful ingredient in certain products. Asbestos is resistant to heat and fire, for instance, and it does not conduct electricity.
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Asbestos was traditionally used as a component in insulation, vinyl floor tiles, shingles, pipes for hot water and steam, furnaces, non-flammable fabrics, automobile brakes and clutches, and other materials which took advantage of the minerals resistance to heat and fire. During the 1970s and 80s, the significance of asbestos’ health hazards was recognized and the US EPA and other government agencies around the world restricted its future use.
The danger for those exposed to asbestos is the material’s miniscule fibers, which are too small to be seen with the naked eye. These fibers can get into the air and water supply, or settle on the ground where they can be disturbed and breathed in. Inhaling these fibers can cause a build-up of scar-like tissue in the lungs called asbestosis and result in loss of lung function that often progresses into a disability and/or death. Additional health risks associated with asbestos include:
  • Mesothelioma; a rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, chest cavity, or abdomen
  • Lung cancer that may develop 20 to 50 years after exposure
  • Pleural plaques; changes in the membranes surrounding the lungs
  • Pleural effusions; abnormal collections of fluid between the lungs and the inside wall of the chest
Asbestos Removal RegulationsGenerally, exposure occurs only when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed or damaged in some way, releasing the fibers into the air. These days, the heaviest exposures are in construction and repair occupations, where employees are renovating, repairing, or demolishing old asbestos construction. Workers in the few industries still manufacturing asbestos products, such as automotive brake pads, are also likely cases for exposure.
EPA’s Asbestos Regulations
Asbestos is regulated as a Hazardous Air Pollutant under the Clean Air Act in 40 CFR Parts 61 and 63.
  • 40 CFR 61, Subpart M includes monitoring, control, and reporting requirements for various activities that could emit friable asbestos to the ambient air (that is, the air outside of buildings), including the act of demolishing/renovating an existing structure which has asbestos-containing material (ACM). The rules for controlling asbestos emissions from demolition/renovation activities are found at 40 CFR 61.145
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) also requires EPA to establish controls on asbestos:
  • In schools (40 CFR 763, Subpart E): identifying asbestos-containing material, sampling, and managing in a timely fashion
  • In non-OSHA asbestos abatement projects (40 CFR 763, Subpart G): protecting state and local government employees who are not currently protected by OSHA’s asbestos standards
  • In certain products (40 CFR 763, Subpart I): prohibiting the manufacture, importation, processing, distribution, and labeling of certain asbestos-containing products
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Tags: Act, Air, Clean, EPA, osha, TSCA

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