Building owners and property managers familiar with asbestos may not automatically think of the asbestos that occurs naturally in soil and rock. Most people associate asbestos exposure with hazardous building materials found during renovation, tenant improvements, and related demolition.
Asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral with unique properties including flexibility, high tensile strength, and chemical and heat resistance. In California, chrysotile is the most abundant form of asbestos and commonly found in serpentine rock, which happens to be the official state rock. Naturally occurring asbestos, or NOA, can be found in 42 of the 58 counties that make up California. When rock and soil containing NOA is disturbed, asbestos fibers are released into the air where they can potentially be inhaled. Construction sites where NOA is present can pose serious health risks to construction workers. Cal/OSHA is now closely examining and revising safety order standards to protect employees from exposure to NOA during construction.
Cal/OSHA to Hold Advisory Meetings to Address Naturally Occurring Asbestos in Construction
In August 2019, Cal/OSHA announced the formation of an advisory committee to “consider development of a rulemaking proposal addressing work with naturally occurring asbestos in the construction industry.” Cal/OSHA is expected to discuss the “classification of work, methods of compliance, hygiene facilities and practices, training, and competent persons” at the first advisory meeting.
Discussions are moving forward after the Cal/OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board granted approval to Petition 568, which requests an amendment to Title 8, Section 1529 of the Construction Safety Orders, which relates to asbestos regulations. Filed by the Naturally Occurring Asbestos Regulations Task Group, the petition requests a number of additions to the existing standards.
Whether these advisory meetings will lead to the development of an official rulemaking proposal remains to be seen, but recent cases from construction sites in Clark County, Nevada, show that what we know about NOA is just the tip of the iceberg.
What You Need to Know About Existing Standards for Naturally Occurring Asbestos in Construction
Employee exposure to NOA, compared to ACMs (Asbestos-Containing Materials), can be difficult to assess and mitigate because existing standards are so ambiguous and there is little guidance for a step-by-step identification process. However, the California Air Resources Board has adopted two Airborne Toxic Control Measures for NOA exposure at construction sites: the ATCM for Surfacing Applications and the ATCM for Construction, Grading, Quarrying and Surface Mining (17 CCR 93105). The ARB Test Method 435 is used for sampling and analysis of NOA.
The U.S. EPA is technically responsible for enforcement of federal asbestos regulation in demolition and construction but can delegate authority to local and state jurisdictions. The Air Resources Board has the delegated authority to enforce all federal regulations for asbestos, including NOA.
The most explicit reference to NOA in construction is included in Cal/OSHA’s existing asbestos standard, Title 8, Section 1529 part (a)(G), which discusses the scope of the regulation: “Excavation which may involve exposure to asbestos as a natural constituent which is not related to asbestos mining and milling activities.”
Property managers or property owners may not even know NOA is present at a site until soil sampling is conducted or an environmental site assessment is completed, but there is no soil sampling or environmental testing requirement in the current Cal/OSHA Title 8 standards. Additionally, several types of NOA may be found at construction sites, and standards for exposure to certain types of asbestos fiber may be more stringent than others, depending on what the advisory committee decides.
Omega Can Help You Identify Naturally Occurring Asbestos on Your Construction Site
By conducting Phase I and II Environmental Site Assessments, Omega’s team of experts can help you determine if NOA is present at any property where earthwork (drilling, boring, etc.) may disturb asbestos-containing soil and/or rock. During a Phase I Site Assessment, Omega will conduct a thorough site visit to determine past and present conditions of the property. This includes reviewing state and agency records, local records, and interviews. In cases where the presence of NOA is well-known, Omega can conduct a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment, which includes surface soil sampling, to confirm and further characterize the presence of asbestos on site. Omega’s Certified Asbestos Consultants can assist in developing an exposure control plan for employees who may come into contact with NOA on a job site.
Contact us to learn more about identifying NOA on a job site and how to protect workers from exposure.