What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral found in certain rocks. This mineral separates into strong, thin fibers that are invisible to the naked eye. Asbestos was commonly used in building materials before the mid-1970s and occasionally until the late 1980s because it is strong, fire- and corrosion-resistant, and a good insulator. Common uses of asbestos include the following:

As a building material additive to enhance strength (for example, asbestos was added to concrete, asphalt, and vinyl materials in roof shingles, pipes, siding, wall board, floor tiles, joint compounds and adhesives)
As a fireproofing material applied on steel beams and columns during construction of multistory buildings
As a thermal insulation and as a means of controlling condensation
As an ingredient in acoustical plaster
As a component of a mixture sprayed on ceilings and walls to produce a soft, textured appearance
If the materials discussed above contain more than one percent asbestos as determined using polarized light microscopy (PLM), they are considered asbestos-containing materials (ACM). ACM can be friable or nonfriable. When dry, friable ACM can be crumbled or reduced to a powder by hand pressure and presents greater health risks to human health than nonfriable ACM. When dry, nonfriable ACM cannot be crumbled or reduced to a powder by hand pressure.

When is ACM a problem?

If ACM is in good condition and left in place, it should not present health risks. However, if the ACM has been damaged or is crumbling, or if a building is to be demolished, renovated, or remodeled, care must be taken to prevent the release of asbestos fibers into the air. Inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers from friable ACM can cause health risks. Once inhaled, asbestos fibers can become lodged in tissue for a long time and can cause cancer.

Asbestos can also cause asbestos-related diseases or problems such as asbestosis, a progressive, disabling and potentially fatal disease; mesotheliona, a rare cancer of the mesothelium, the thin tissue layer that lines body cavities and surrounds internal organs; and pleural plaques, scar tissue in the chest cavity. The number of fibers a person must inhale to develop asbestos-related disease is not known. At very low exposure levels (such as being in the same room as a cracked tile containing asbestos), the risks can be negligible. However, during demolition, renovation and removal activities, risks from exposure greatly increase. Also, smoking greatly increases the risk of asbestos-related lung cancer. Almost all known cases of asbestos-related lung cancer occurred among people who smoked and were exposed to asbestos.

Because asbestos presents a significant risk to human health when released to air, asbestos is considered a hazardous air pollutant regulated under the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) regulations.

What are NESHAP regulations?

NESHAP regulations are Federal regulations under the Clean Air Act (CAA) that apply to the facility owners and contractors who perform work in public and commercial buildings. Asbestos NESHAP regulations address common small business activities such as milling, manufacturing and fabricating operations, demolition and renovation activities, waste disposal issues, active and inactive waste disposal sites, and asbestos conversion processes. A privately owned home or an apartment with four or less units is exempt from the regulations unless the building has either had previous use or future planned use as a commercial or public facility. For privately owned homes and apartments with four or less units, please refer to the fact sheet titled “How Do I Manage Asbestos In My House Or Apartment Building?”

The term “facility” as used in NESHAP regulations refers to a residential structure or any building that has been or will be used as a commercial property. The only exemptions are privately owned homes or residential structures having four or less dwelling units.

How do I comply with NESHAP?

Prior to any renovation or demolition activities, you must first inspect your facility or the affected portion of your facility for the presence of regulated ACM. Certain types of asbestos are regulated differently under NESHAP regulations. Specifically, regulated ACM is: 1) friable ACM; 2) Category I nonfriable ACM that is in poor condition has become friable; 3) Category I nonfriable ACM that will be or has been subjected to sanding, grinding, cutting or abrading, or 4) Category II nonfriable ACM that has a high probability of becoming or has become crumbled, pulverized, or reduced to powder in the course of demolition or renovation operations. Category I nonfriable ACM consists of any asbestos-containing packing, gasket, resilient floor covering, or asphalt roofing product that contains more than 1 percent asbestos as determined using PLM.

Category II nonfriable ACM consists of any material except for Category I nonfriable ACM that contains more than one percent asbestos as determined using PLM and that when dry, cannot be crumbled, pulverized, or reduced to powder by hand pressure.

Friable regulated ACM is present in many public and commercial buildings, apartment buildings and factories built before the mid-1970s and in some buildings built after the mid-1970s. If you are not sure if regulated ACM is present at your facility, hire a licensed asbestos inspector who may obtain samples for laboratory analysis.

If an inspector has determined that regulated ACM removal is necessary, you will need to hire a licensed contractor to conduct regulated ACM removal work, you should be aware of the requirements below for contractors during removal activities.

• A NESHAP-trained person must be present.
• The area from which the asbestos will be removed should be sealed off and any forced-air heating systems should be shut off.
• Workers should wear a respirator fitted with cartridges that filter out asbestos fibers.
• The asbestos should not be broken into small pieces because this can increase the amount of airborne asbestos fibers.
• The asbestos should be kept wet during the entire removal process.
• The asbestos waste should be containerized and labeled for disposal at an approved landfill.
• The area from which the asbestos was removed should be cleaned thoroughly with a wet mop, rags or sponges.
• Asbestos removal workers should decontaminate themselves.
• Only a licensed contractor should remove regulated ACM.

What other regulations apply to asbestos?

In addition to NESHAP requirements, other regulatory standards apply to asbestos. The first two items listed below apply to regulated ACM removal contractors, and the remaining items apply to the facility owner.

  1. The Asbestos School Hazard Reauthorization Act extends the training requirements specified in the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, which regulates asbestos removal in schools, to public and commercial buildings.
  2. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulates the abatement of asbestos. Employers are required to (1) identify or presume the presence of asbestos in the workplace; (2) communicate that information to their employees; (3) meet training, medical surveillance and exposure documentation requirements for employees working with and around ACM; and (4) follow certain practices and procedures during disturbance of ACM.
  3. Local governmental agencies may also have asbestos-related regulations. For example, the City of Chicago and Cook County have ordinances that require the filing of notices and fee assessments. Contact local governmental entities in your area prior to conducting any renovation or demolition activities.

How do I obtain more information?

For more information on ACM, please call Microtech Office of Small Business Helpline toll-free at 1-800-717-5559. All calls are considered confidential.