The history of asbestos use in construction is complicated. Asbestos was used widely in a variety of consumer and commercial products until the 1970s. In 1989, the U.S. EPA banned most asbestos-containing products, but this regulation was overturned a few years later, and instead modified to ban only new uses of asbestos. There are still a variety of asbestos-containing products on the market and asbestos is used today in a variety of products.
Because of this, asbestos is commonly found in construction materials used in many buildings constructed before 1980 and is still used in some new products in the United States. In fact, asbestos is routinely found in buildings constructed after 1980. Asbestos-containing products are now subject to numerous environmental, health, and manufacturing regulations. EPA’s Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 established strict regulatory standards for monitoring of asbestos in schools and was expanded to an industry standard for the management of asbestos in a variety of commercial and industrial settings. This came as a result of the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act of 1990 which expanded accreditation requirements the Asbestos Model Accreditation Plan (MAP) to cover asbestos abatement projects in all public and commercial buildings in addition to schools.
To date, there are no federal or state regulations mandating the removal of asbestos-containing materials (ACM) from an office or commercial building. In EPA’s “Guidance for Controlling Asbestos-Containing Materials in Buildings” (EPA 560/5-850024, June 1985), the EPA states:
“The presence of asbestos in a building does not mean that the health of building occupants is necessarily endangered. As long as asbestos-containing material (ACM) remains in good condition and is not disturbed, exposure is unlikely. When building maintenance, repair, renovation or other activities disturb ACM, or if it is damaged, asbestos fibers may be released creating a potential hazard. Although not required to do so by federal law, the prudent building owner will take steps to limit building occupants’ exposure to airborne asbestos.”
If undisturbed and without damage, ACM typically does not pose a health risk. However, if disturbed and/or damaged, microscopic asbestos fibers can become airborne, which may cause serious health problems including respiratory diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer in those who are exposed. ACMs are most commonly disturbed during renovation or demolition of a facility built with ACMs, but exposure can be minimized by utilizing certified asbestos professionals and licensed abatement crews to perform and oversee any asbestos remediation work. Minor disturbance can occur during routine cleaning, floor buffing, and other maintenance activities.
When a structure has existing asbestos-containing building materials in good condition, implementing an O&M program is an acceptable way to manage ACMs prior to their removal during demolition or renovation. A proper O&M plan is designed to manage asbestos in place to minimize exposure to building occupants, reduce the potential for disturbance of ACM, describe adequate respiratory protection for those in contact with ACMs, and to document the use of the O&M program within the building.
Safe Planning for Handling Asbestos in Good Condition
The first step in a comprehensive asbestos management plan is to conduct an asbestos assessment to identify the different types, quantities, and locations of ACMs present in the building.
A fully developed asbestos operations & maintenance plan includes awareness training for occupants and workers, with additional training for engineers, plumbers, electricians and others who may come into contact with asbestos in the course of their work.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that a proactive O&M program be implemented in locations where ACM has been identified but will not be removed immediately.
A properly designed O&M program includes specific procedures for managing different types of ACMs: surfacing materials such as decorative ceiling plaster; thermal systems insulation applied to pipes, boilers, tanks and ducts; and miscellaneous materials containing asbestos such as floor tiles, textiles, siding and roofing materials.
The Right Partner for Safe and Effective Asbestos Management
At Omega Environmental, we have decades of experience in the assessment and remediation of asbestos for clients that include both private and government property managers in a variety of industries. We have developed numerous site-specific asbestos O&M plans for the safe management and removal of asbestos from high-rises, entertainment venues, and universities, among other locations.
Our team includes both California Certified Asbestos Consultants (CACs) and EPA-certified trainers and asbestos exposure mitigation specialists with deep expertise in the safe, cost-effective and thorough management of asbestos in buildings.
Give us a call or click on the link below to learn more about our services for asbestos assessment, management and remediation.