Puget Sound Abatement

FAQs - Puget Sound Abatement

“Asbestos” is the name given to a group of minerals that occur naturally as bundles of fibers which can be separated into thin threads. These fibers are not affected by heat or chemicals and do not conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been widely used in many industries. Four types of asbestos have been used commercially:

  • Chrysotile, or white asbestos
  • Crocidolite, or blue asbestos
  • Amosite, which usually has brown fibers
  • Anthophyllite, which usually has gray fibers
  • Chrysotile asbestos, with its curly fibers, is in the serpentine family of minerals. The other types of asbestos, which all have rod-like fibers, are known as amphiboles. Asbestos fiber masses tend to break easily into a dust composed of tiny particles that can float in the air and stick to clothes. The fibers may be easily inhaled or swallowed and can cause serious health problems.

Asbestos was mined and used commercially in North America beginning in the late 1800s. Its use increased greatly during World War II. Since then, it has been used in many industries. For example, the building and construction industry has used it for strengthening cement and plastics as well as for insulation, fireproofing, and sound absorption. The shipbuilding industry has used asbestos to insulate boilers, steam pipes, and hot water pipes. The automotive industry uses asbestos in vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads. More than 5,000 products contain or have contained asbestos. Some of them are listed below:

  • Asbestos cement sheet and pipe products used for water supply and sewage piping, roofing and siding, casings for electrical wires, fire protection material, electrical switchboards and components, and residential and industrial building materials
  • Friction products, such as clutch facings, brake linings for automobiles, gaskets, and industrial friction materials
  • Products containing asbestos paper, such as table pads and heat-protective mats, heat and electrical wire insulation, industrial filters for beverages, and underlying material for sheet flooring
    Asbestos textile products, such as packing components, roofing materials, and heat- and fire-resistant fabrics (including blankets and curtains)
  • Other products, including ceiling and floor tile; gaskets and packings; paints, coatings, and adhesives; caulking and patching tape; artificial ashes and embers for use in gas-fired fireplaces; plastics; vermiculite-containing consumer garden products; and some talc-containing crayons

In the late 1970s, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the use of asbestos in wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces because the asbestos fibers in these products could be released into the environment during use. Additionally, asbestos was voluntarily withdrawn by manufacturers of electric hair dryers. In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all new uses of asbestos; uses established prior to 1989 are still allowed. The EPA has established regulations that require school systems to inspect for damaged asbestos and to eliminate or reduce the exposure to occupants by removing the asbestos or encasing it. In June 2000, the CPSC concluded that the risk of children’s exposure to asbestos fibers in crayons was extremely low. However, the U.S. manufacturers of these crayons agreed to reformulate their products within a year. In August 2000, the EPA recommended that consumers reduce possible asbestos exposure from vermiculite-containing garden products by limiting the amount of dust produced during use. The EPA suggested that consumers use vermiculite outdoors or in a well-ventilated area; keep vermiculite damp while using it; avoid bringing dust from vermiculite use into the home on clothing; and use premixed potting soil, which is less likely to generate dust.

The regulations described above and other actions, coupled with widespread public concern about the hazards of asbestos, have resulted in a significant annual decline in U.S. use of asbestos: Domestic consumption of asbestos amounted to about 719,000 metric tons in 1973, but it had dropped to about 9,000 metric tons by 2002. Asbestos is currently used most frequently in gaskets and in roofing and friction products.

Exposure to asbestos may increase the risk of several serious diseases:

  • Asbestosis – a chronic lung ailment that can produce shortness of breath, coughing, and permanent lung damage
  • Lung cancer;
  • Mesothelioma – a relatively rare cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen
  • Other cancers, such as those of the larynx, oropharynx, gastrointestinal tract, and kidney

Nearly everyone is exposed to asbestos at some time during their life. However, most people do not become ill from their exposure. People who become ill from asbestos are usually those who are exposed to it on a regular basis, most often in a job where they work directly with the material or through substantial environmental contact.

Since the early 1940s, millions of American workers have been exposed to asbestos. Health hazards from asbestos fibers have been recognized in workers exposed in shipbuilding trades, asbestos mining and milling, manufacturing of asbestos textiles and other asbestos products, insulation work in the construction and building trades, brake repair, and a variety of other trades. Demolition workers, drywall removers, and firefighters also may be exposed to asbestos fibers. As a result of Government regulations and improved work practices, today’s workers (those without previous exposure) are likely to face smaller risks than did those exposed in the past.

Although it is known that the risk to workers increases with heavier exposure and longer exposure time, investigators have found asbestos-related diseases in individuals with only brief exposures. Generally, those who develop asbestos-related diseases show no signs of illness for a long time after their first exposure. It can take from 10 to 40 years for symptoms of an asbestos-related condition to appear.

There is some evidence that family members of workers heavily exposed to asbestos face an increased risk of developing mesothelioma. This risk is thought to result from exposure to asbestos fibers brought into the home on the shoes, clothing, skin, and hair of workers. This type of exposure is called paraoccupational exposure. To decrease these exposures, people exposed to asbestos at work are required to shower and change their clothing before leaving the workplace.

Not all workers exposed to asbestos will develop diseases related to their exposure. The risk of developing asbestos-related diseases varies with the type of industry in which the exposure occurred and with the extent of the exposure. Asbestos that is bonded into finished products such as walls and tiles poses no risk to health as long as it is not damaged or disturbed (for example, by sawing or drilling) in such a way as to release fibers into the air. When asbestos fibers are set free and inhaled, however, exposed individuals are at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.

In addition, different types of asbestos fibers may be associated with different health risks. For example, results of several studies suggest that amphibole forms of asbestos may be more harmful than chrysotile, particularly for mesothelioma. Even so, no fiber type can be considered harmless, and people working with asbestos should always take proper safety precautions to limit exposure.

Many studies have shown that the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure is particularly hazardous. Smokers who are also exposed to asbestos have a greatly increased risk of lung cancer. However, smoking combined with asbestos exposure does not appear to increase the risk of mesothelioma.

There is evidence that quitting smoking will reduce the risk of lung cancer among asbestos-exposed workers. People who were exposed to asbestos on the job at any time during their life or who suspect they may have been exposed should not smoke. If they smoke, they should stop.

Individuals who have been exposed (or suspect they have been exposed) to asbestos fibers on the job or at home via a family contact should inform their physician of their exposure history and any symptoms. Asbestos fibers can be measured in urine, feces, mucus, or material rinsed out of the lungs. A thorough physical examination, including a chest x-ray and lung function tests, may be recommended. It is important to note that chest x-rays cannot detect asbestos fibers in the lungs, but they can help identify any lung changes resulting from asbestos exposure. Interpretation of the chest x-ray may require the help of a specialist who is experienced in reading x-rays for asbestos-related diseases. Other tests also may be necessary.

As noted earlier, the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases may not become apparent for many decades after exposure. If any of the following symptoms develop, a physical examination should be scheduled without delay:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A cough or a change in cough pattern
  • Blood in the sputum (fluid) coughed up from the lungs
  • Pain in the chest or abdomen
  • Difficulty in swallowing or prolonged hoarseness
  • Significant weight loss

Employers are required to follow regulations dealing with asbestos exposure on the job that have been issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Federal agency responsible for health and safety regulations in maritime, construction, manufacturing, and service workplaces. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) enforces regulations related to mine safety. Workers should use all protective equipment provided by their employers and follow recommended work practices and safety procedures. For example, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved respirators that fit properly should be worn by workers when required.

Employers are required to follow regulations dealing with asbestos exposure on the job that have been issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Federal agency responsible for health and safety regulations in maritime, construction, manufacturing, and service workplaces. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) enforces regulations related to mine safety. Workers should use all protective equipment provided by their employers and follow recommended work practices and safety procedures. For example, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved respirators that fit properly should be worn by workers when required.

While it is often possible to “suspect” that a material or product is/or contains asbestos by visual determination, actual determinations can only be made by instrumental analysis. Until a product is tested, it is best to assume that the product contains asbestos, unless the label, or the manufacturer verifies that it does not.

The EPA requires that the asbestos content of suspect materials be determined by collecting bulk samples and analyzing them by polarized light microscopy (PLM). The PLM technique determines both the percent and type of asbestos in the bulk material. EPA Regional Offices can provide information about laboratories that test for asbestos.

Some people exposed to asbestos develop asbestos-related health problems; some do not. 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 years after exposure. Today we are seeing results of exposure among asbestos workers during World War II. 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.

Asbestosis is a serious, chronic, non-cancerous respiratory disease. Inhaled asbestos fibers aggravate lung tissues, which causes them to scar. Symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath and a dry crackling sound in the lungs while inhaling. In its advanced stages, the disease may cause cardiac failure.

There is no effective treatment for asbestosis; the disease is usually disabling or fatal. The risk of asbestosis is minimal for those who do not work with asbestos; the disease is rarely caused by neighborhood or family exposure. Those who renovate or demolish buildings that contain asbestos may be at significant risk, depending on the nature of the exposure and precautions taken.

Lung Cancer
Lung cancer causes the largest number of deaths related to asbestos exposure. The incidence of lung cancer in people who are directly involved in the mining, milling, manufacturing and use of asbestos and its products is much higher than in the general population. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and a change in breathing. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent chest pains, hoarseness, and anemia.

People who have been exposed to asbestos and are also exposed to some other carcinogen — such as cigarette smoke — have a significantly greater risk of developing lung cancer than people who have only been exposed to asbestos. One study found that asbestos workers who smoke are about 90 times more likely to develop lung cancer than people who neither smoke nor have been exposed to asbestos.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer which most often occurs in the thin membrane lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, and (rarely) heart. About 200 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States. Virtually all cases of mesothelioma are linked with asbestos exposure. Approximately 2 percent of all miners and textile workers who work with asbestos, and 10 percent of all workers who were involved in the manufacture of asbestos-containing gas masks, contract mesothelioma.

People who work in asbestos mines, asbestos mills and factories, and shipyards that use asbestos, as well as people who manufacture and install asbestos insulation, have an increased risk of mesothelioma, so do people who live with asbestos workers, near asbestos mining areas, near asbestos product factories or near shipyards where use of asbestos has produced large quantities of airborne asbestos fibers.

The younger people are when they inhale asbestos, the more likely they are to develop mesothelioma. This is why enormous efforts are being made to prevent school children from being exposed.

Other Cancers
Evidence suggests that cancers in the esophagus, larynx, oral cavity, stomach, colon and kidney may be caused by ingesting asbestos. For more information on asbestos-related cancers, contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society.

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 is responsible for the health and safety of workers who may be exposed to asbestos in the work place, or in connection with their jobs. EPA is responsible for developing and enforcing regulations necessary to protect the general public from exposure to airborne contaminants that are known to be hazardous to human health. The EPA’s Worker Protection Rule (40 CFR Part 763, Subpart G) extends the OSHA standards to state and local employees who perform asbestos work and who are not covered by the OSHA Asbestos Standards, or by a state OSHA plan. The Rule parallels OSHA requirements and covers medical examinations, air monitoring and reporting, protective equipment, work practices, and record keeping. In addition, many State and local agencies have more stringent standards than those required by the Federal government. People who plan to renovate or remove asbestos from a building of a certain size, or who plan to demolish any building, are required to notify the appropriate federal, state and local agencies, and to follow all federal, state, and local requirements for removal and disposal of regulated asbestos-containing material (RACM). 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.

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. Those responsible for enforcing AHERA have concentrated on educating LEAs, in an effort to ensure that they comply with the regulations. Contractors that improperly remove asbestos from schools can be liable under both AHERA and NESHAP. For more information on AHERA, request the pamphlet entitled “The ABC’s of Asbestos in Schools” from the EPA Public Information Center.

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). Asbestos was one of the first hazardous air pollutants regulated under Section 112. 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. For a copy of the Asbestos NESHAP contact the Asbestos NESHAP Coordinators listed in the Appendix.

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, the Asbestos NESHAP 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.

The Asbestos NESHAP was amended for several reasons. EPA wanted to clarify existing regulatory policies, and to add regulations which explicitly address monitoring and record keeping at facilities which mill, manufacture, and fabricate asbestos. Also, because of the high risk associated with the transfer and disposal of ACM, EPA also wanted to strengthen the requirements which govern asbestos waste disposal by requiring tracking and record keeping. Furthermore, EPA determined that the Asbestos NESHAP needed to take into account the availability of improved emission controls. EPA also wanted to make the NESHAP consistent with other EPA statutes that regulate asbestos.

The following activities and facilities are currently regulated by the Asbestos NESHAP:

  • The milling of asbestos
  • Roadways containing ACM
  • The commercial manufacture of products that contain commercial asbestos
  • The demolition of all facilities
  • The renovation of facilities that contain friable ACM
  • The spraying of ACM
  • The processing (fabricating) of any manufactured products that contain asbestos
  • The use of insulating materials that contain commercial asbestos
  • The disposal of asbestos-containing waste generated during milling, manufacturing, demolition, renovation, spraying, and fabricating operation
  • The closure and maintenance of inactive waste disposal sites
  • The operation of and reporting on facilities that convert asbestos containing waste material into non-asbestos material
  • The design and operation of air cleaning devices
  • The reporting of information pertaining to process control equipment, filter devices, asbestos generating processes, etc.
  • Active waste disposal sites

Milling, Manufacturing, and Fabricating Sources
Businesses which are involved in asbestos milling, manufacturing, and fabricating now must monitor for visible emissions for at least 15 seconds at least once a day (during daylight hours), and inspect air cleaning devices at least once a week. The facilities must maintain records of the results, and submit each quarter a copy of the visible emissions monitoring records if visible emissions occurred during the quarter. Facilities that install fabric filters (to control asbestos emissions) after the effective date of the revision must provide for easy inspection of the bags.

Demolition and Renovation
All facilities which are “demolished” are subject to the Asbestos NESHAP. The definition of demolition was expanded to include the intentional burning of a facility, in addition to the “wrecking or taking out . . . any load-supporting structural member of a facility”. Owners and operators of all facilities which are to be demolished, and of facilities that contain a certain amount of asbestos which are to be renovated, must now provide more detailed information in notifications, including the name of the asbestos waste transporter and the name of the waste disposal site where the ACM will be deposited.

Owners and operators must give a 10-day notice for planned renovations and demolitions. They must re-notify EPA in advance of the actual start date if the demolition or renovation will begin on a date other than the one specified in the original notification. Telephone re- notifications are permitted, but must be followed by written notice.

Starting one year after promulgation of the regulation, a person trained in the provisions of the Asbestos NESHAP, and in the methods of complying with them, must supervise operations in which ACM is stripped, removed or otherwise handled. This supervisor is responsible for all on-site activity. Before wetting is suspended, the EPA administrator must approve. When wetting of asbestos during its removal is suspended due to freezing temperatures, owners or operators must measure the air temperature in the work area three times during the workday, and must keep those records for at least two years.
The revisions also clarify EPA’s position regarding the handling and treatment of non- friable asbestos material. The owner and operator must inspect the site for the presence of non-friable ACM, and include in the notification an estimate of how much non-friable ACM is present. Also, the owner and operator must describe the procedures to be followed if unexpected ACM is found in the course of demolition or renovation, and if non-friable asbestos becomes friable in the course of renovation or demolition.

Waste Transport and Disposal
Vehicles used to transport ACM must be marked according to new guidelines during loading and unloading. Labels indicating the name of the waste generator and the location where the waste was generated must be placed on containers of RACM. When ACM waste is transported off-site, a waste shipment record (WSR) must be given to the waste site operator or owner at the time that the waste is delivered to the waste disposal site. The owner or operator must send a signed copy of the WSR back to the waste generator within 30 days, and attempt to reconcile any discrepancy between the quantity of waste given on the WSR and the actual amount of waste received. If, within 15 days of receiving the waste, the waste site owner or operator cannot reconcile the discrepancy, he or she must report that problem to the same agency that was notified about the demolition or renovation. New disposal sites must apply for approval to construct, and must notify EPA of the startup date. Existing disposal sites must supply EPA with certain information concerning their operations, such as the name and address of the owner or operator, the location of the site, the average weight per month of the hazardous materials being processed, and a description of the existing emission control equipment. If a copy of the WSR signed by the waste site owner or operator is not received by the waste generator within 35 days of the date that the waste was accepted by the initial transporter, the waste generator must contact the transporter and/or disposal site owner or operator to determine the status of the waste shipment. If a signed copy of the WSR is not received within 45 days of the date that the waste was accepted by the initial transporter, the waste generator must submit a written report to the same agency that was notified about the demolition or renovation.

Owners of disposal sites must record on the deed to the disposal site that the property has been used for ACM disposal. They must also keep records that show the location, depth, area and volume of the asbestos waste; they must indicate on the deed that these records are available. Owners of inactive disposal sites must obtain written approval before they excavate or otherwise disturb ACM waste that has been deposited on the site.

Most of the time, no. The common materials used in home construction are wall & ceiling texture (popcorn Ceiling), floor tile & Vinyl, roofing and siding. These materials are very strong and don’t readily crumble and release the asbestos fibers unless they are subjected to strong forces. Occasionally other materials such as pipe insulation and thermal insulation, such as batt or blown-in insulation, are used in home construction. If you determine that you have this type of material, through inspection and analysis by a properly qualified inspector and laboratory, you should seek the help of a consultant to aid you in determining what you need to do to remedy your situation. If you never have the need to disturb these materials, you may be able to leave them alone. But if you know that a needed repair or renovation will disturb the material, you may want to start planning with your consultant to abate the asbestos during the project.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) requires that you perform a survey to determine the presence of asbestos in your building before doing a renovation or demolition. You must also notify before you start such a project. In Washington you must notify the Washington Department of State Health Services. Washington also has rules that pertain to public buildings that require similar notification as the NESHAP and further requirements such as licensed persons to perform the survey and to remove the asbestos.

There are ten EPA Regional Offices around the country. You can obtain more information about the Asbestos NESHAP by contacting your EPA Regional Office’s NESHAP coordinator or the appropriate State or local agency. You can obtain more information about AHERA by contacting your EPA Regional Asbestos Coordinator (RAC). You may also call the EPA Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Hotline to ask general questions about asbestos, or to request asbestos guidance documents. The Hotline number is (202) 554-1404. The EPA Public Information Center can send you information on EPA regulations. You can reach the center at (202) 382-2080 or (202) 475-7751. The Office of the Federal Register (202-382- 5475) can send you copies of any regulations published in The Federal Register, including the Asbestos NESHAP. Finally, the EPA has an Asbestos Ombudsman to provide information on the handling and abatement of asbestos in schools, the work place and the home. Also, the EPA Asbestos Ombudsman can help citizens with asbestos-in-school complaints. The Ombudsman can be reached toll-free at (800) 368-5888, direct at (703) 557- 1938 or 557-1939.