Asbestos Rule Change Continues to Generate Controversy

Since the rule change was issued, many contractors and industry officials have commented that it represents a significant change that directly impacts abatement and demolition practices.  EPA has maintained that all they were doing was providing greater clarity as to what the term "small fragments" refers to in the rule.

This afternoon I attended the Building Environment Council of Ohio (BECO) luncheon where a panelist of three Ohio EPA staff were present to discuss and answer questions regarding the rule.  A simple once sentence change resulted in more than two hours of discussion. 

Why so much discussion?  The dispute seems to boil down to whether non-friable asbestos category I material, such as vinyl floor tile or roofing material, must be removed prior to demolition of the structure. 

Contractors in the audience told Ohio EPA that it was virtually impossible to demolish a large structure without breaking up Category I material into four square inches.  They also asserted that if the demolition didn't break up the material, the clean up afterward would more than likely result in four squire inch pieces.  Contractors noted that U.S. EPA guidance suggests Category I non-friable asbestos can remain during demolition.

Ohio EPA responded that they felt the rule change had nothing to do with the issue of removal prior to demolition.  The Agency indicated all the rule does is define what constitutes "small fragments."  The Agency personnel acknowledged the U.S. EPA guidance and said its still the rule that non-friable material can remain during demolition, but noted, even prior to this rule change- you run the risk material gets broken up into small fragments which we could consider a potential violation.

The Agency mentioned that in West Virginia and Tennessee the asbestos rules simply require removal of all Category I non-friable material prior to demo.  Contractors in the audience asked the Agency why they didn't simply write the rule to require removal like those other states. 

Ohio EPA responded that they wanted to preserve the option that building owner did not have to remove the Category I non-friable material prior to demolition.  Staff said that "perhaps the owner is very confident demolition won't result in small fragments."  It was noted by several in the audience that the lack of clear standard puts demolition contractors in a very tough spot.