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The Role of the EPA in Regulating Asbestos

The Role of the EPA in Regulating Asbestos

September 2, 2016

The Role of the EPA in Regulating Asbestos

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created to protect the environment and the health of humans by regulating substances that could potentially be harmful to both.  Asbestos is a carcinogen that was used in many places:  our schools, our homes, the buildings we work in, and the products we buy. While asbestos is illegal to manufacture in the United States, it is not illegal to import and asbestos is still used in products and manufacturing today. However, asbestos is heavily regulated. Government organizations like the EPA have regulated asbestos to determine the acceptable level of asbestos to which humans can be exposed, how to remove asbestos from a facility safely, and what you are required to do by law if you discover asbestos. The following outlines rules and regulations according to the EPA:

Asbestos-Related Laws

The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA)
This law requires schools and other educational platforms to inspect its buildings for asbestos -containing material. If asbestos is found, the law then requires officials to produce an asbestos management plan, and reduce asbestos levels within the affected buildings.

Asbestos Information Act (Public Law – 100-577)
Companies who make any sort of asbestos-containing product must report that production to the EPA.

Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act – (ASHARA)
Approximately 25 years ago, it was estimated that the amount of asbestos that contaminated schools would affect close to 15 million children. The EPA also estimated that it would cost educational services $3 billion for clean-up and removal because schools must comply with the aforementioned AHERA.  It became apparent that without any sort of assistance, school districts and educational facilities would suffer as they would not be able to financially support the response to asbestos found in schools.  The ASHARA was implemented in 1990 as a provision to the AHERA that requires the EPA to assist, direct, and enable institutions to be able to follow the correct protocol.

Asbestos Model Accreditation Plan (MAP)
Issued under the AHERA, MAP provides guidelines on training requirements and accrediting asbestos professionals. There are eight components to MAP that when used together, provide a plan for the states and EPA training providers. These components are: Initial training, examinations, refresher training, qualifications, decertification requirements, reciprocity, definitions, and record keeping requirements. Asbestos inspections and response actions in buildings, schools, and other public areas are required to be done by an accredited asbestos professional that has been properly trained. Training and accreditation is not specific to just one job or one person. Under the MAP, workers, contractors/supervisors, inspectors, management planners, and project designers must all be trained.

The Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
These two pieces of legislation serve to make sure that our air and water is clean and safe for consumption and use. Local government and individual states are responsible for abiding by current laws and regulations regarding any activity where asbestos may be involved. Under the CAA is the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), which has effectively banned asbestos containing spray that was used for fireproofing, insulating, decorating. Thermal system insulation or wet insulations that are commonly used for boilers, pipes, and hot water tanks are also banded under NESHAP. Additionally, the EPA is allowed to intervene whenever necessary.

The SDWA determines the amount of “allowable” contaminants in drinking water. With asbestos being used in cement pipes that distribute water, it became apparent that drinking water could be contaminated. Under the SDWA, the maximum contaminant level for asbestos is 7 million fibers per liter (MFL). At that point, one is at risk of developing a serious illness. If asbestos levels ever rose to 7 MFL or higher, water suppliers would be required to notify customers within 30 days.

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)
CERCLA, also known as Superfund, is a government-funded program that cleans up with hazardous waste sites that are abandoned in the United States. Hazardous wastes sites are ranked using the Hazard Ranking System to determine if the site is eligible for clean-up. Typically, asbestos removal is regulated by NESHAP and actions are taken based upon the health risk from the contaminated site itself and if the area is currently being used, or may be used soon.

EPA Asbestos Regulations

EPA Asbestos Worker Protection Rule
This rule applies to people who are state and local government employees but are not covered by OSHA’s asbestos regulations.  Worker protection requirements are extended through the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the EPA is required to protect those who may be exposed to asbestos in states that do not have an OSHA approved occupational safety and health plan.

Asbestos Ban and Phase out Rule (Remanded)
Most asbestos containing products were banned in the United States in 1989, but in 1991 that regulation was over-turned due to a loophole in the TSCA. Today, asbestos is still legal and a few asbestos-containing products are still banned. However, in June 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was passed. This new act will provide new legislation allowing the EPA more control over toxic chemicals – regardless of the impact on industry profits.

Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP)
Asbestos fibers are small, light, needle-like, and can move around easily in the air. The asbestos fibers that become airborne during building renovations and demolitions are hazardous so NESHAP regulations have been implemented to control asbestos exposure. Before a demolition or renovation, the building’s operator/owner must notify the appropriate state agency with a letter of intent that includes the amount of asbestos that is currently there and will determine if the amount of asbestos is too high. Specific procedures are then followed to control asbestos emissions caused by any activity that would break, dislodge, or disturb the asbestos. In addition to controlling asbestos exposure as a result of building demolitions, other manufacturing plants are not allowed to emit visible emissions into the air. Asbestos-containing waste must also be handled under specific removal guidelines. Operations also must follow specific procedures with removing asbestos-containing waste.
Building and maintenance workers, regular home owners and citizens, and even school children are all entitled to be protected from the dangers of asbestos.  Currently, supporters for the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act that was passed earlier this year are putting pressure on the EPA to place asbestos on the list of substances and chemicals that should be investigated and potentially banned.  Supporters want legislators to act quickly because according to the legislation, it can still take up to seven years for asbestos to be banned. This has environmentalists concerned as Americans are still getting sick and hundreds of thousands of people could lose their lives during the seven-year period.

If you are suffering from an asbestos-related illness and are unsure if you have ever been exposed, contact the attorneys at Goldberg, Persky & White, P.C.. For over 30 years we have represented many individuals throughout the US who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer, or other asbestos-related diseases. As a result of this focus, our mesothelioma lawyers have the knowledge and experience to fight for the best possible asbestos compensation. Learn more about our law firm’s asbestos experience, our mesothelioma attorneys, or our Ask an Asbestos Attorney for answers to common questions. Feel free to contact us directly for more information.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Asbestos Laws and Regulations” (October 14, 2015). [Link]

U.S . Environmental Protection Agency, “What are the EPA’s drinking water regulations for asbestos.” [Link]

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Asbestos at Superfund Sites,” (April 19, 2016). [Link]