Skip to main content

Asbestos Program

Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) have been used in the construction of buildings since the end of World War II. In 1989 the federal government passed a rule that eventually bans most of the asbestos used in the United States. The management and removal of existing asbestos containing materials in buildings, however, raises concerns for the health and safety of the buildings' occupants. This is because asbestos may or may not pose a health hazard depending upon its condition. It does not present a problem if the ACM is in good condition, i.e., solid in appearance and to the touch. But, when it has deteriorated or been damaged such that its fibers can be released into the air and inhaled, it becomes hazardous.

Program Overview

These webpages provide basic information about asbestos and the hazards that it may present and is applicable to anyone who occupies or works in a space containing asbestos or ACMs. It does not detail the special training needed for employees engaged in asbestos abatement and removal nor the awareness training needed by maintenance workers. Rules governing the handling of asbestos and ACMs are administered by both OSHA and EPA, as well as state and local agencies depending upon the locale. In general, OSHA's regulations cover employee exposure in the work place or in connection with their jobs, while EPA's rules are aimed at protecting the public from the hazards associated with exposure to asbestos in the air.

Frequently Asked Questions

Asbestos is a mineral composed of silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, and various metal cations (positively charged metal ions).

There are many varieties of asbestos: the three most common are chrysotile, amosite, and crocidolite. Chrysotile fibers are pliable and cylindrical, and often arranged in bundles. Amosite and crocidolite fibers are like tiny needles. Unlike most minerals, which turn into dust particles when crushed, asbestos breaks up into fine fibers that are too small to be seen by the human eye. Often individual fibers are mixed with a material that binds them together, producing ACM.

Although asbestos was first used in this country in the early 1900's, it was not until the 1940's that its use became widespread. Manufacturers and builders began incorporating asbestos into their products for several reasons: It is "strong yet flexible, and it will not burn. It conducts electricity poorly, and insulates effectively. It also resists corrosion. Finally, compared to the few other available materials that combine these traits, it is inexpensive.

For these reasons, use of asbestos in a variety of commercial products and in constructing or renovating buildings exploded in the years following WWII and continued for the next thirty years. In the construction industry, ACMs were used for fireproofing, soundproofing, insulation, and decoration. Many commercial products, such as plastics, paper products, brake linings, and textile products, also contained asbestos. Today the final Asbestos Ban and Phaseout Rule has stopped the "manufacture, processing and importation" of most asbestos products. But that still leaves the problem of identifying and safely handling all the existing ACMs.

"Suspected" ACMs may be identified by visual inspections, but only instrumental analysis can accurately determine the asbestos content of any given material or product.

Consequently, until a product is tested, it is best to assume that it contains asbestos unless the label or the manufacturer verifies that it does not. To determine the asbestos content of suspected ACMs, the EPA requires the collection of bulk samples, which are subsequently analyzed by polarized light microscopy (PLM). PLM reveals the percent and type of asbestos contained in the samples.

The EPA takes a very reasonable approach to the problem:

EPA's advice on asbestos is neither to rip it all out in a panic nor to ignore the problem under a false presumption that asbestos is "risk free." Rather, EPA recommends a practical approach that protects public health by emphasizing that asbestos material in buildings should be located, that it should be appropriately managed, and that those workers who may disturb it should be properly trained and protected.

That has been, and continues to be, EPA's position. The following summarizes the five major facts that the Agency has presented in congressional testimony:

FACT ONE: Although asbestos is hazardous, human risk of asbestos disease depends upon exposure.

FACT TWO: Prevailing asbestos levels in buildings -- the levels school children and you and I face as building occupants -- seem to be very low, based upon available data. Accordingly, the health risk we face as building occupants also appears to be very low.

FACT THREE: Removal is often not a school district's or other building owner's best course of action to reduce asbestos exposure. In fact, an improper removal can create a dangerous situation where none previously existed.

FACT FOUR: EPA only requires asbestos removal in order to prevent significant public exposure to asbestos, such as during building renovation or demolition.

FACT FIVE: EPA does recommend in-place management whenever asbestos is discovered. Instead of removal, a conscientious in- place management program will usually control fiber releases, particularly when the materials are not significantly damaged and are not likely to be disturbed.

Exposure to asbestos generally occurs via inhalation of asbestos fibers that have been released into the air.

Because asbestos fibers are so small and light, they remain in the air for a long time whenever they are released from an ACM. The fibers also may be ingested if people eat under these conditions.

Deteriorated or damaged ACMs are more likely to release fibers than non-damaged ones. "Friable" ACMs, such as sprayed-on asbestos fireproofing, are more likely to release fibers than "non-friable" ones, such as asbestos containing floor tiles. (An ACM is considered to be fiable if, when dry, it can be crumbled by hand pressure.) However, even non-friable materials can release fibers when sanded, sawed, or otherwise aggressively disturbed. Asbestos cement pipe, for example, can release fibers if crushed or broken when buildings are renovated or demolished. Finally, ACMs in high use areas are more likely to be disturbed and consequently release fibers than those in relatively undisturbed areas.

Once inhaled, asbestos fibers can easily penetrate body tissues. They may be deposited and retained in the airways and lung tissue. Because asbestos fibers remain in the body, each exposure increases the likelihood of developing an asbestos-related disease.

Asbestos related diseases may not appear until [many] years after exposure. A medical examination which includes a medical history, breathing capacity test and chest x-ray may detect problems early. Scientists have not been able to develop a "safe" or threshold level for exposure to airborne asbestos. Ingesting asbestos may be harmful, but the consequences of this type of exposure have not been clearly documented. Nor have the effects of skin exposure to asbestos been documented. People who touch asbestos may get a rash similar to the rash caused by fiberglass.

Among the more serious diseases related to asbestos exposure are asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Cancers in the esophagus, larynx, oral cavity, stomach, colon and kidney may be linked to ingestion of asbestos. More information on lung and other asbestos-related cancers may be gotten from The American Cancer Society. Brief discussions of asbestos-related diseases also are available from the OSHA and EPA websites.

Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are responsible for regulating environmental exposure and protecting workers from asbestos exposure

OSHA's regulations are contained in 29 CFR 1910.1001 for General Industry and 1926.1101 for Construction. The EPA's Worker Protection Rule (40 CFR Part 763, Subpart G) extends the OSHA standards to state and local employees who do asbestos work but are not covered by the standards or by a state OSHA plan. In addition, many State and local agencies have more stringent standards than those required by the Federal government.

EPA regulations governing asbestos:

In 1979, under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA began an asbestos technical assistance program for building owners, environmental groups, contractors and industry. In May 1982, EPA issued the first regulation intended to control asbestos in schools under the authority of TSCA; this regulation was known as the Asbestos-in-Schools Rule. Starting in 1985, loans and grants have been given each year to aid Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in conducting asbestos abatement projects under the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act (ASHAA).

In 1986, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA; Asbestos Containing Materials in Schools, 40 CFR Part 763, Subpart E) was signed into law as Title II of TSCA. AHERA is more inclusive than the May 1982 Asbestos-in-Schools Rule. AHERA requires LEAs to inspect their schools for asbestos containing building materials (ACBM) and prepare management plans which recommend the best way to reduce the asbestos hazard. Options include repairing damaged ACM, spraying it with sealants, enclosing it, removing it, or keeping it in good condition so that it does not release fibers. The plans must be developed by accredited management planners and approved by the State. LEAs must notify parent, teacher and employer organizations of the plans, and then the plans must be implemented. AHERA also requires accreditation of abatement designers, contractor supervisors and workers, building inspectors, and school management plan writers. For more information on AHERA, request the pamphlet entitled 'The ABC's of Asbestos in Schools' from the EPA Public Information Center.

In 1989 EPA published the Asbestos: Manufacture, Importation, Processing, and Distribution in Commerce Prohibitions; Final Rule (40 CFR Part 763, Subpart I). The rule ban[s] about 94 percent of the asbestos used in the U.S. (based on 1985 estimates). For example, asbestos containing drum brake linings and roof coatings [are] banned. The rule [was] implemented in three stages between 1990 and 1997.

The Clean Air Act (CAA) of 1970 requires EPA to develop and enforce regulations to protect the general public from exposure to airborne contaminants that are known to be hazardous to human health. In accordance with Section 112 of the CAA, EPA established National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). On March 31, 1971, EPA identified asbestos as a hazardous pollutant, and on April 6, 1973, EPA promulgated the Asbestos NESHAP in 40 CFR Part 61, Subpart M. The Asbestos NESHAP has been amended several times, most recently in November 1990.

The Asbestos NESHAP is intended to minimize the release of asbestos fibers during activities involving the handling of asbestos. Accordingly, it specifies work practices to be followed during renovations of buildings which contain a certain threshold amount of friable asbestos, and during demolitions of all structures, installations, and facilities (except apartment buildings that have no more than four dwelling units). Most often, [it] requires action to be taken by the person who owns, leases, operates, controls, or supervises the facility being demolished or renovated (the "owner"), and by the person who owns, leases, operators, controls or supervises the demolition or renovation (the "operator"). The regulations require owners and operators subject to the Asbestos NESHAP to notify delegated State and local agencies and/or their EPA Regional Offices before demolition or renovation activity begins. The regulations restrict the use of spray asbestos, and prohibit the use of wet applied and molded insulation (i.e., pipe lagging). The Asbestos NESHAP also regulates asbestos waste handling and disposal.

Training For Facilities Employees

All asbestos-related training programs are administered by MC-EHS as part of the College's Asbestos Management Plan. Facilities employees who maintain ACMs or engage in asbestos abatement and removal must be trained and certified to do so. The level of training required varies depending the nature of the work involved. (More detailed information regarding the various training requirements will be available in the future.) Speak to your supervisor if you believe your duties involve ACMs. Your supervisor or the department manager will contact the Environmental Health and Occupational Safety Office for a hazard evaluation and appropriate training class.

Asbestos Locations at the College

View the Asbestos Survey Reports and related documentsnew window for all campuses.

Resources from OSHA

©