Hazard Alert: Asbestos Hazards in New Materials

Legal asbestos products may still cause workplace health problems

Asbestos minerals are still found in a variety of products in the workplace. Although many uses of asbestos have been banned under Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations, some materials remain legal for sale and use. The materials that were not banned included materials where asbestos fibers are generally well bound in the material. There are also materials on the market that contain asbestos as a contaminant where the asbestos content is less than 1% in the final products. Although these materials typically represent minor exposure hazards for the environment and workers, misuse or extreme conditions may present a risk to the health of workers.

Legal asbestos products may still cause workplace health problems

Asbestos minerals are still found in a variety of products in the workplace. Although many uses of asbestos have been banned under Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations, some materials remain legal for sale and use. The materials that were not banned included materials where asbestos fibers are generally well bound in the material. There are also materials on the market that contain asbestos as a contaminant where the asbestos content is less than 1% in the final products. Although these materials typically represent minor exposure hazards for the environment and workers, misuse or extreme conditions may present a risk to the health of workers.

Asbestos Containing Materials Legal for Sale

The following products containing asbestos may be sold in the United States. This list is not comprehensive.

  • Automotive brakes and other friction materials
  • Machinery gaskets
  • Asphaltic and bitumous roofing materials and pipeline coatings
  • Cement asbestos products
  • Mineral products with naturally occurring contamination
  • Raw asbestos for use in manufacturing

Asbestos hazards may or may not be labeled

Product information on labels and Material Safety Data Sheets will often have information on asbestos content when it is greater than 1% of a material. However, the lack of asbestos information on the label may not always mean of a lack of asbestos. When handling products that may contain asbestos, the presence of asbestos should be assumed unless the manufacturer or an appropriate testing laboratory has specifically certified the material as asbestos free.

The asbestos content of a material and airborne asbestos in the work environment are not directly related. Factors such as how well the asbestos fibers are bound in the material and work practices can affect exposure levels. Airborne exposure monitoring is often the only way to determine the actual exposure level.

Building and facility owners are required to assess asbestos hazards

Building and facility owners are required to assess asbestos hazards prior to renovation, maintenance or demolition work. A written report must be given to contractors and others who work around any asbestos project. This requirement applies to newly installed materials as well

Asbestos materials need special handling

WISHA workplace asbestos rules apply to any work where asbestos is present. Handling of the materials should avoid processes that generate dust and debris. For example sawing or grinding of asbestos materials must be avoided or, if necessary, must be conducted in a well controlled manner.

  • Asbestos materials should generally be kept wet, particularly when dust and debris is present.
  • Clean up procedures must use wet wiping or mopping.
  • If a vacuum or local ventilation system is used it must have a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. (The HEPA filter must remove 99.97 percent of all particulate with aerodynamic diameter of 0.3 microns or greater. Not all products sold as HEPA filters meet this standard.)
  • Dust and debris must always be cleaned up promptly.

Asbestos Containing Materials Banned for Sale

  • Spray applied surfacing materials
  • Thermal system insulation
  • Paper products
  • Rollboard
  • Flooring Felt
  • Patching compound (CPSC)
  • False fireplace embers (CPSC)

The EPA has also prohibited adding asbestos to products that did not contain asbestos prior to the ban.

CPSC bans only apply to consumer goods and these materials may still be sold for other purposes.

These requirements apply whenever asbestos is present in the materials being handled. Training must be provided to ensure employees are aware of asbestos in the workplace and how to handle it. Where there is a potential for exposures at or above the permissible exposure limit (0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter) there must be additional workplace controls, training and personal protective equipment.

There are specific training requirements for custodial and maintenance workers coming into contact with asbestos containing materials in buildings. There are also specific work practice requirements for automotive brake and clutch work whenever asbestos materials are removed. Maintenance operations for heavy machinery and industrial equipment may also involve handling large scale brakes and friction materials, electrical insulators, thermal insulation and packing materials that may contain asbestos.

Construction work requires special considerations

In construction operations the basic work procedures and training will apply whenever asbestos is present and during installation of new materials. The construction requirements also apply to building maintenance work where asbestos containing materials are removed or handled directly, rather than just contacted. Often during removal or demolition, there is a greater hazard handling these materials than during installation. The products may deteriorate while in use and may be broken up during removal. Additional work practice and training applies to these operations, even with removal of materials that have not been banned. Where there is a potential for exposures over the permissible exposure limit during renovation, demolition or repair work there are specific work practice requirements as well as requirements for certification of workers, supervisors and contractors who are conducting asbestos work.

Further information and assistance is available

The work rules for asbestos are covered in Chapter 296-62 of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) which can be found on the internet or by contacting any L&I service location. L&I compliance and consultation staff can also assist with these issues. Training and consulting on asbestos is available through a number of private firms. These firms are generally listed under "Asbestos" or "Industrial Hygiene" in the phone book.

Exposure to asbestos can kill you

Asbestos consists of six silicate minerals commonly found around the world. These asbestiform minerals have fibrous structure and have exceptional tensile strength, chemical resistance and temperature resistance. Due to the fibrous structure of the mineral crystal, asbestos easily cleaves into small fibers that can stay airborne for long periods. The fibers can get into the deep lung where they become lodged. Being chemically resistant the body cannot break them down and expel them as with other particles. These fibers lead to lung damage and scarring that may ultimately manifest as asbestosis. Chemical properties of the fibers can also lead to lung cancer or cancer of the lung lining (mesothelioma).

EPA Web site: http://www.epa.gov
OSHA Web site: http://www.osha.gov

 

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