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Asbestos and Repairing Water Damage

September 28, 2017


water damage.jpgMany buildings with asbestos-containing materials have experienced water damage as a result of recent hurricanes. As you prepare to repair a facility with water damage, you must be aware of your responsibilities regarding asbestos detection and reporting. In fact, the U.S. government deemed asbestos so hazardous that it was one of the first air pollutants to be regulated under The Clean Air Act.

The Clean Air Act requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to 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 Clean Air Act, the EPA established National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) to protect public health. That led to the creation of the Asbestos NESHAP.

Is Your Facility Subject to Asbestos NESHAP?

All buildings, except residential buildings with four or fewer dwelling units, are subject to the Asbestos NESHAP standards and regulations, assuming they contain specific threshold amounts of asbestos as specified in the Asbestos NESHAP. In certain cases, residential buildings with four or fewer dwellings are subject to the Asbestos NESHAP, such as when they are part of a larger installation (I.e. an army base, company housing, apartment or housing complex, etc.).

How Much Asbestos Makes my Repair Project Subject to Asbestos NESHAP?

There must be a certain amount of asbestos (the threshold amount) present before the Asbestos NESHAP work practice standards apply to a project.  Asbestos NESHAP regulations must be followed for all renovation or demolition projects where the amount of asbestos in the facility meets ANY ONE of the following threshold amounts: 

  • 80 linear meters (260 linear feet) of regulated asbestos-containing materials (RACM) on pipes
  • 15 square meters (160 square feet) of RACM on other facility components
  • One cubic meter (35 cubic feet) of facility components where the amount of RACM previously removed from pipes and other facility components could not be measured before stripping

Remember that only one of these thresholds must be met (not all of them) to qualify your work on the site in question as being under Asbestos NESHAP regulations.

Notifications for Renovations versus Demolitions

Hopefully, you are able to renovate your facility and don’t need to start from scratch with a demolition. But if you do, please keep in mind that notification requirements vary between renovations and demolitions. For renovation projects, no notification is required if the amount of asbestos present is less than all three threshold values listed above. However, for demolition projects, you must always notify the appropriate regulatory agency, even if no asbestos is present at the site.

The asbestos regulation also makes it clear that ignorance is not an excuse for a lack of proper reporting. The fact is that all demolitions and renovations are "subject" to the Asbestos NESHAP, and it places the burden on you (the owner/manager of the facility and the repair operator) to determine if, and how much, asbestos is present at the facility.

Can I Just Encapsulate the Asbestos?

To encapsulate a site, you need to apply a sealant to the material in question in order to prevent the release of asbestos fibers. You may find this to be the least expensive and most expedient solution to your asbestos-related water damage problem. That’s because the Asbestos NESHAP does not regulate encapsulation. Of course, there is always a caveat. In this case, you can avoid regulations, unless you plan to remove any of the asbestos, strip any of it, or damage it in a way that leads to the release of asbestos fibers into the air. For example, if you use high-pressure spraying to apply encapsulant, you have a reasonable chance of damaging the asbestos.

You also need to be careful when working with friable (crumbly) RACM. If you encapsulate friable RACM, then your project will fall under the Asbestos NESHAP regulations if either renovation or demolition is required.

What Happens if I Discover More Asbestos Over Time?

No need to worry. The Asbestos NESHAP regulations were developed to account for changes in the amounts of asbestos detected throughout, or hopefully prior to the start of, your project. Your notification does not always need to be revised as you discover additional amounts of asbestos. In fact, you only need to send a revised notification when the amount of RACM involved changes by more than 20 percent.

We recognize that you will likely have numerous additional questions as you prepare to evaluate your facility for the presence and handling of asbestos within water-damaged areas. We are always happy to help, so feel free to contact us today.

About this blog

Welcome to our postings on the environment and regulatory impact.  We strive to keep you informed with the latest changes in regulations and with lessons learned from our time in the field


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