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What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals found in rock and soil. Mined and milled from native rock, asbestos is fibrous, thin, and strong. Chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite fibers are the most common types of asbestos minerals. But only chrysotile, crocidolite, and amosite varieties are of industrial importance.

Characteristics, like heat resistance, chemical inertness, and insulating capacity, coupled with the flexibility to be woven make asbestos suitable for use in many industrial applications.

Because of its fiber strength and heat resistance asbestos has been used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant. Asbestos has also been used in a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products), friction products (automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts), heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings.

Where Asbestos May be Found

Asbestos may be found in places such as:

• Attic and wall insulation produced containing vermiculite

• Vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives

• Roofing and siding shingles

• Textured paint and patching compounds used on walls and ceilings

• Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets

• Hot water and steam pipes coated with asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape

• Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets with asbestos insulation

• Heat-resistant fabrics

• Automobile clutches and brakes

• Schools

• Workplaces

• Drinking Water

• Air

How can people be exposed to asbestos?

Asbestos fibers may be released into the air by the disturbance of asbestos-containing material during product use, demolition work, building or home maintenance, repair, and remodeling. In general, exposure may occur only when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed or damaged in some way to release particles and fibers into the air.

Health Effects from Exposure to Asbestos

Exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing lung disease. That risk is made worse by smoking. In general, the greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater the chance of developing harmful health effects.

Disease Symptoms May Take Many Years to Develop Following Exposure

Asbestos-related conditions can be difficult to identify. Healthcare providers usually identify the possibility of asbestos exposure and related health conditions like lung disease by taking a thorough medical history. This includes looking at the person’s medical, work, cultural and environmental history.

After a doctor suspects an asbestos-related health condition, he or she can use a number of tools to help make the actual diagnosis. Some of these tools are physical examination, chest x-ray and pulmonary function tests. Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist who treats diseases caused by asbestos.

Three of the major health effects associated with asbestos exposure are:

• lung cancer

• mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining of the lung, chest and the abdomen and heart

• asbestosis, a serious progressive, long-term, non-cancer disease of the lungs

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund Program

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Superfund program addresses abandoned hazardous waste sites. The Agency can clean up sites or compel responsible parties to perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanups under the authority of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).

Asbestos in the environment may be addressed by the Superfund program if it is the result of past industrial operations or improper waste disposal. For a long time, asbestos was part of many building materials and commercial products and may still be used in some applications. Asbestos became a popular product because it is strong, won’t burn, resists corrosion and insulates well.

Manufacturing and processing facilities are often a source of asbestos, as are other products known to contain asbestos (such as vermiculite). Asbestos products may also deteriorate over time, or buildings may be demolished without first properly removing the asbestos-containing material. In some places, asbestos is a naturally occurring substance. EPA’s website provides more asbestos-related information for communities, schools, building owners and managers, and asbestos professionals.

Where the asbestos is naturally occurring or there is concern regarding asbestos from in-place building materials, response actions to address these sites under Superfund are expressly limited under CERCLA §104(a)(3), 42 U.S.C. §9604(a)(3). For these cases, EPA reviews site-specific conditions to determine if a removal or response action under CERCLA is appropriate.

In most cases, removal of asbestos-containing building materials in place is regulated through a different EPA program, Section 112 of the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs).

Asbestos contamination may be addressed under the removal or remediation programs as outlined in Superfund. Consistent with addressing other contaminants under Superfund, actions taken for asbestos-contaminated sites are informed by estimates of the health risk from site contamination for current and future land use. To aid in risk-based site evaluation, EPA has developed a framework for investigating asbestos-contaminated Superfund sites.

In the past, EPA response actions often addressed conditions where materials containing greater than 1 percent asbestos were present. But asbestos in soils at and below 1 percent may still pose unacceptable health risks depending on site-specific conditions and land use. Current EPA policy OSWER Directive 9345.4-05 recommends development of site-specific, risk-based action levels to determine if response actions should be taken when asbestos levels below 1 percent are found at a site.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber historically used in various building materials and products due to its durability, fire resistance, and insulating properties. In Texas, asbestos regulation is primarily governed by the Texas Asbestos Health Protection Rules (TAHPR) and federal laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act. The TAHPR, administered by the Texas Department of State Health Services, sets standards for asbestos abatement, licensing, and accreditation procedures. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also plays a role through the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs) and the Superfund program, which can address asbestos contamination from industrial operations or improper waste disposal. Exposure to asbestos can lead to serious health issues, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. In Texas, any demolition or renovation activities that may involve asbestos-containing materials must comply with state and federal regulations to prevent asbestos exposure and protect public health.

Texas Statutes & Rules

Federal Statutes & Rules

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) - 42 U.S.C. §9601 et seq.
CERCLA, commonly known as Superfund, is relevant to asbestos as it provides a federal program designed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances, which can include asbestos.

CERCLA authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to respond to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances that may endanger public health, welfare, or the environment. The EPA can compel responsible parties to clean up hazardous sites, fund the cleanup itself, or take legal action to force parties to carry out cleanup or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanups. Asbestos, when improperly handled or disposed of, can be considered a hazardous substance under CERCLA. The act also provides guidelines for the removal and disposal of asbestos-containing materials during the cleanup of Superfund sites. CERCLA §104(a)(3) specifically limits the EPA's authority to respond to naturally occurring asbestos or asbestos that is part of the structure of a building, except under certain conditions where the asbestos may pose a significant health risk.

National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) - Section 112 of the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. §7412
NESHAP includes regulations for the control of hazardous air pollutants, including asbestos, and is relevant for the demolition, renovation, and disposal of asbestos-containing materials.

The NESHAP regulations for asbestos are designed to minimize the release of asbestos fibers during activities involving the handling of asbestos-containing materials. The regulations apply to demolition and renovation of buildings, structures, and installations. Specific requirements are set for the inspection of facilities for the presence of asbestos, notification procedures for demolition and renovation activities, and work practices to be followed during asbestos removal, including packaging and disposal of waste. The regulations also establish emission standards for asbestos-containing waste materials and require certain actions to be taken to adequately wet asbestos-containing materials during demolition and renovation to prevent the release of asbestos fibers into the air.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Asbestos Standards - 29 CFR 1910.1001 and 29 CFR 1926.1101
OSHA's asbestos standards are relevant for workplaces, including construction sites, where employees may be exposed to asbestos fibers.

OSHA's asbestos standards regulate asbestos exposure in the workplace to protect workers from the health risks associated with asbestos fibers. The standards establish permissible exposure limits (PELs) for asbestos in the workplace, require employers to conduct exposure assessments, and mandate the use of engineering controls and work practices to limit worker exposure. They also require employers to provide personal protective equipment, medical surveillance, and training for employees who are likely to be exposed to asbestos at or above the action level or excursion limit. The standards cover various aspects of work with asbestos, including but not limited to, requirements for asbestos abatement, construction, and demolition activities.

Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) - 42 U.S.C. §300f et seq.
The SDWA is relevant to asbestos as it regulates the nation's public drinking water supply and includes provisions to protect against harmful contaminants, including asbestos.

The SDWA authorizes the EPA to set national health-based standards for drinking water to protect against both naturally occurring and man-made contaminants that may be found in drinking water. The EPA sets Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for various substances, including asbestos. Public water systems are required to regularly monitor their water for contaminants and to take action to treat or eliminate contaminants that exceed the MCLs. The act also includes provisions for the protection of underground sources of drinking water through the underground injection control program and requires water suppliers to provide annual reports to their customers on water quality, including the presence of asbestos and other contaminants.

Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) - 15 U.S.C. §2601 et seq.
TSCA gives the EPA the authority to require reporting, record-keeping, testing, and restrictions relating to chemical substances, which can include asbestos.

Under TSCA, the EPA has the authority to require manufacturers, importers, and processors of chemical substances to record and report data on the health and environmental effects of chemical substances. The EPA can also ban the manufacture and import of those chemical substances that pose an unreasonable risk. Specifically, TSCA Title II, also known as the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), requires schools to inspect their buildings for asbestos-containing building material and prepare management plans to reduce the hazard from asbestos exposure. TSCA also includes provisions for the EPA to establish requirements regarding the safe handling and disposal of asbestos-containing materials.