Asbestos is the name of a collection of silicate minerals used in many products throughout the 20th Century. Everything from cement to shingles was made with asbestos because of its strength and resistance to heat. While many don't view it as a current problem, asbestos is still a pressing air quality issue, especially in our region.
When asbestos is left undisturbed it does not pose a health risk. During renovation or demolition, however, it’s common for old, brittle asbestos products to release tiny fibers. These tasteless, odorless fibers can remain suspended in the air and enter your lungs when you inhale. And once inhaled, asbestos stays there forever.
Exposure to airborne asbestos fibers can cause serious health issues including asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and pleural disease. And there is no safe minimum level of exposure to asbestos. An estimated 10,000 cases of asbestos-related disease occur each year in the U.S. as a result of past exposures.
It can take 20-40 years for some of these diseases to manifest, so we are currently seeing the results of exposures from the 1980s and 1990s now. Also of note: Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Health officials say that the mortality rate for mesothelioma in Allegheny County is “significantly higher” than that of both Pennsylvania and the nation.
The only way to be sure whether a material contains asbestos is to have it tested by a qualified laboratory.
Most regulations around demolition and abatement are determined by the state and overseen by the Asbestos Control Program. The DEP and EPA do not regulate asbestos in single-family residents, but public building projects may be subject to National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) regulations.
In Allegheny County, the health department regulates asbestos. ACHD’s rules require an asbestos survey for all renovation and demolition projects and depending on the quantity of asbestos identified, proper notification, specific work practices, and proper disposal of asbestos-containing material (ACM) are required. These rules apply to all structures with more than four dwelling units, along with schools, public buildings, and a wide range of other structures defined as facilities under the regulations.
For Contractors and Building Owners
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was once widely used in building materials because of its fire-resistant properties. However, asbestos fibers can be harmful to human health when they are inhaled.
When contractors or building owners renovate or demolish a building that contains asbestos, it is important to take steps to prevent the release of asbestos fibers into the air. This can be done by hiring a qualified asbestos abatement contractor to remove the asbestos safely. It is also important to ventilate the work area well and to provide personal protective equipment for workers. By taking these precautions, contractors and building owners can help to protect the health of workers and the public from exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos exposure can cause a number of serious health problems, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. These diseases can be fatal, and there is no cure. Therefore, asbestos is closely regulated and fines can be levied if regulation are not adhered to by responsible parties.
All demolitions at a facility require notification, even if no asbestos is present, and must minimize dust creation.
The asbestos survey must be attached to the notification. ACHD has one notification form used for both demolition and renovation activities.
The notification requirements for facility demolition and renovation
activities are dependent upon the amount of asbestos-containing material (ACM) at the site.
If less than 160 square feet of ACM is identified in the facility, a properly completed notification must be submitted 10 days before demolition or renovation activity begins.
If the amount of ACM is 160 square feet or more, a properly completed permit application must be submitted with appropriate payment at least 10 working days before the asbestos abatement begins.
A licensed asbestos contractor must remove all ACM identified as described in the permit. Demolition or renovation activities may proceed once ACHD has performed a final clearance inspection.
Allegheny County Health Department’s rules require an asbestos survey (a thorough inspection to determine the presence of asbestos) for all renovation and demolition projects, and depending on the quantity of asbestos identified, proper notification, specific work practices, and proper disposal of asbestos containing material (ACM) are required. Non-compliance may mean violations and a penalty for your municipality, business, and customers.
For Homeowners & Tenants
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was once widely used in construction materials. However, it is now known to be a dangerous carcinogen. When asbestos fibers are disturbed, they can become airborne and be inhaled, causing serious health problems, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
If asbestos is discovered, it can pose a serious health risk. If you are concerned about asbestos in your home or building, it should be tested by a qualified professional. If asbestos is found, it is important to have it removed by a qualified contractor.
There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself from the health risks of asbestos. First, you should avoid disturbing asbestos-containing materials. If you must disturb asbestos-containing materials, you should wear protective gear, such as a respirator and gloves. You should also ventilate the area well and avoid creating dust.
If you are concerned about asbestos in your home or building, you should contact a qualified professional for more information.
Tenants in rented living spaces
Renters should contact the building owner or management. While there is no specific law in Pennsylvania requiring a landlord to disclose the existence of asbestos in the leased space or elsewhere in the building, they are required by law to provide a habitable living space. If asbestos is present in a way that endangers human health, the building owner is required to take reasonable steps to resolve the issue.
In Allegheny County, the Department of Housing and Community Environment works with landlords and tenants to make sure their homes and apartments are safe and up to code. Residents can file a complaint by calling 412-350-4046 or using their online Complaint Form. If a code violation is discovered during an inspection, the department can issue orders to the landlord to correct the problem within a specific time frame.
Interested in learning more about your indoor air quality?
Fortunately, most residents will not be affected by asbestos in their living spaces as it's more likely to be an issue during renovation and demolition. However, there are many other indoor air pollutants that homeowners and tenants might want to keep tabs on or learn more about.
Local organization ROCIS (Reducing Outdoor Contaminants in Indoor Spaces) provides a wide range of information on their website. They also offers a unique opportunity to monitor pollutants in your own home: Low Cost Monitoring Program (LCMP). LCMP is a free program that uses low-cost monitoring devices to address indoor air quality.
"Abatement", for purposes of asbestos abatement, means procedures designed to reduce the potential for fiber release from asbestos-containing materials (ACM). These include removal, encasement, and encapsulation of ACM in any facility.
"Air sampling", for purposes of asbestos abatement, means the process of measuring the fiber content of a known volume of air collected during a specific period of time. In addition, transmission electron microscopy methods may be required when the Department determines that lower detectability or specific fiber identification are necessary.
“Asbestos" means the asbestiform varieties of a group of naturally occurring minerals that readily separate into fibers, including serpentinite (chrysotile), amosite, riebeckite (crocidolite), cummingtonite-grunerite, anthophyllite, and actinolite-tremolite.
"Asbestos-Containing Material" (ACM) means any material that contains more than one percent (1%) asbestos by weight or area.
"Breakdown" means any sudden or unexpected event which has the effect of causing any air pollution control equipment, process equipment or any other potential source of air contaminants to fail, malfunction or otherwise abnormally operate in such manner that emissions into the open air are, or may be, increased.
"Containment barrier", for purposes of asbestos abatement, means a temporary, air-tight barrier consisting of minimum six (6) mil plastic sheeting used to seal off all openings into the work area, including but not limited to windows, doorways, corridors, skylights, ducts and grilles.
"Decontamination enclosure system", for purposes of asbestos abatement, means a series of connected chambers, separated from the work area and from each other by airlocks, which is for the decontamination of workers, materials and equipment.
"Demolition", for purposes of asbestos abatement, means the wrecking or taking out of any load-supporting structural member of a facility together with any related handling operations or the intentional burning of any facility.
"Encapsulant" means a liquid material which can be applied to ACM to temporarily control the potential release of asbestos fibers from the material either by creating a membrane over the surface (bridging encapsulant) or by penetrating into the material and binding its components together (penetrating encapsulant).
"Encasement" means any process or application that involves the direct application of any liquid or solid material onto, and in direct contact with, ACM, including but not limited to the application of multi-port self-curing resin systems, in order to totally confine or seal such ACM for purposes of abatement of the potential release of asbestos fibers.
"Facility", for purposes of asbestos abatement, means any institutional, commercial, public, or industrial structure, installation or building, and any residential structure, installation, or building consisting of more than four (4) dwelling units.
"Glovebag technique" means a method for removing ACM from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) ducts, short pipe runs, valves, joints, elbows, and other nonplanar surfaces in a noncontained work area. The glovebag assembly is a manufactured device consisting of a bag (constructed of six (6) mil transparent plastic), two inward-projecting long-sleeve rubber gloves, one inward-projecting waterwand sleeve, an internal tool pouch, and an attached labeled receptacle for asbestos waste. The glovebag is constructed and installed in such a manner that it surrounds the object or area from which ACM is to be removed and contains all asbestos fibers released during the removal process.
"HEPA filter" means a high efficiency particulate absolute air filter capable of trapping and retaining 99.97 percent of fibers greater than 0.3 micrometers in mass median aerodynamic diameter equivalent.
"Leak-tight container" means, at a minimum, double six (6) mil polyethylene bags inside a fiber or steel drum capable of being sealed at the top with an adjustable seal ring, labeled in accordance with the requirements of 40 CFR §61.150(a)(1)(iv) and (v).
"Negative air pressure equipment", for purposes of asbestos abatement, means a portable exhaust system equipped with HEPA filters. The system shall be capable of maintaining a constant, low velocity, clean air flow out of contaminated areas, creating a negative pressure differential between the outside and inside of the contaminated work area.
"NIOSH" means the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health CDC - NIOSH, Building J. N.E., Room 3007, Atlanta, GA 30333.
"Occupied facility" means any facility which has not been evacuated for the duration of the asbestos abatement activity of all persons other than those directly involved with said abatement activity.
"Operating & Maintenance Plan", for purposes of asbestos abatement, means a plan for conducting, in
accordance with 40 CFR §61.145(c), a number of renovation/maintenance operations in which the amount of ACM that will be removed or encapsulated within a one year period can reasonably be predicted to exceed at least 160 square feet on facility components.
"Outside air", for purposes of asbestos abatement, means the air outside the work area.
"Owner or operator" means any person who owns, leases, operates, controls, or supervises a stationary source.
"Removal", for asbestos abatement purposes, means the stripping or taking off of any ACM from surfaces or facility components.
"Structural member", for purposes of asbestos abatement, means any load-supporting or non-load supporting member of a facility, such as beams, walls, and ceilings.
"Wet cleaning" means the process of eliminating asbestos contamination from building surfaces and objects by using cloths, mops, or other cleaning tools which have been dampened with water.