Not every government agency has the same recommended policies, procedures, and recommendations regarding the same issue. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) & The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have differing views on how they regulate asbestos. The Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with protecting the air, water, and land in the United States, and OSHA, a division of the Department of Labor, provides worker protection standards and employer responsibilities for General Industry and the Construction Industry.
The two agencies are not related. This matters as the EPA focuses primarily on environmental matters while OSHA focuses on workplace regulations.
EPA Asbestos Sources & Exposure
The EPA defines asbestos as a series of six (6) hydrated magnesium silicate minerals that are fibrous in nature and that occur in rock and soil. Asbestos is found and mined in rock form, and the rock is processed into various size fibers that can be used for heat resistance, and other uses due to its fiber strength. Asbestos fibers also are resistant to chemicals and do not conduct electricity. Therefore it was used in early electrical wiring, as well as woven into cloth that is fireproof, such as fire fighting suits and theatre curtains. The EPA lists the potential sources of modern asbestos exposure as:
- Airborne exposure to asbestos may occur through the erosion of natural deposits in asbestos-bearing rocks, from a variety of asbestos-related industries, or from clutches and brakes on cars and trucks. The concentrations in outdoor air are highly variable.
- Asbestos has been detected in indoor air, where it is released from a variety of building materials such as insulation and ceiling and floor tiles. It is primarily released when these building materials are damaged or disintegrate.
- Asbestos may be released into water from a number of sources, including erosion of natural deposits, corrosion from asbestos-cement pipes, and disintegration of asbestos roofing and siding materials with subsequent transport into sewers.
The EPA recommends that contractors and employers working on sites with ACM (asbestos-containing materials) follow guidelines and regular training programs. An Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) is regulated by both OSHA and EPA and is defined as a material that contains greater than 1% of one of the six types of asbestos. Also recommended by the EPA is following state & local guidelines in tandem with federal laws and regulations.
For health, the EPA notes: “To assess personal or professional exposure to asbestos, the EPA notes the presence of asbestos fibers in urine, feces, or mucus. In addition, a chest X-ray, although it cannot detect the asbestos fibers themselves, can detect early signs of lung disease caused by asbestos as indicators.” Any assessments must be conducted by a medical doctor for any conclusive diagnosis.
OSHA Asbestos Standards
OSHA defines asbestos as anything that “includes chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite asbestos, anthophyllite asbestos, actinolite asbestos, and any of these minerals that have been chemically treated and/or altered.” OSHA notes asbestos exposure occurs from presumed asbestos-containing materials, including thermal system insulation and surfacing material found in buildings constructed no later than 1980. Although it is required to have a licensed inspector take samples of a suspect material (and have it analyzed by an accredited laboratory) regardless of date, all pre-1981 TSI and Surfacing Materials, as well as resilient flooring, are regulated as Presumed ACM whenever found in a building.
To assess personal or professional asbestos exposure, OSHA has strict guidelines in place for contractor or personal use. Limiting potential exposure by time-on-site or by the number of jobs an employee conducts in a determined time period are top priorities. OSHA standards are used on a federal level. To learn more, read OSHA’s extensive documentation on asbestos and required asbestos practices.
The EPA/OSHA Differences on Asbestos
When it comes to asbestos, the main difference between the EPA and OSHA is their place in the government. OSHA is much more focused on workplace and employer/employee safety while the EPA is focused solely on safe removal and disposal of ACM.
OSHA is regulated on a federal level while the EPA designates most asbestos regulations to the state or local level. The OSHA regulations are much broader in that they focus on the requirements of employers in buildings with asbestos, as well as specific procedures to remove or disturb asbestos, while the EPA focuses on the environment (air, water, and land) and how it may affect public health.
Both OSHA and EPA regulations and practices are important to follow. Keeping workers healthy and public parties safe is the top priority when working with asbestos. Making sure every contractor and worker involved is properly trained and licensed will make for a safe and productive workplace.
Illinois Environmental Contractors Association Resources
For more information on finding a local contractor to assist with asbestos information, remediation, or removal check the resources below: