Don't forget the basics

Handling asbestos still falls under OSHA and EPA regulations

The beginning of the end of asbestos-containing roofing material (ACRM) installation on buildings in the U.S. started about 30 years ago, and the manufacture of most ACRM phased out around the same time. Accordingly, the inventory of buildings currently protected by roof systems or materials that contain asbestos fibers is diminishing. For many roofing contractors, bidding on and undertaking an ACRM removal project has become a rare occurrence.

Regardless of the frequency of the occurrence, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations related to removing or disturbing ACRM still demand roofing contractor compliance, and a number of state and local asbestos regulatory actions pose further compliance challenges to those performing ACRM removal.


Asbestos is a term given to a group of fibrous minerals that were used widely in a number of products, including roofing materials, because of their strength, durability and heat resistance. Before the late 1970s and early 1980s, asbestos commonly was used in roofing felts, bituminous flashings, roof coatings, mastics and cements, asbestos-cement shingles, transite panels, and, more rarely, asphalt shingles and felt-based vapor retarders.

The danger from asbestos fibers comes from inhalation. Low levels of asbestos fiber concentrations exist naturally in the air we breathe. However, when asbestos fiber concentrations become elevated, they pose a health risk because the fibers' structure makes it difficult to purge the fibers from the lungs once inhaled.

The accumulation of fibers can cause asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs, and mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the tissue surrounding the lungs. Notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states chrysotile asbestos fibers, most commonly found in roofing materials, may not remain in the lungs as long as other asbestos fibers, resulting in a reduced toxicity. Research published in several other scientific journals appears to support the CDC finding with regard to ACRM.

ACRM removals are controlled under a less restrictive federal regulatory protocol than other forms of asbestos present in other products. This was not the case when the regulations first were proposed, but NRCA and other roofing industry organizations presented evidence that asbestos fibers in roofing materials are bound in either asphalt, in the case of roofing felts, flashings and cements, or Portland cement, as used in transite panels and asbestos cement shingles. As a result, during the most commonly used roof system removal practices, the fibers are less likely to become airborne and inhaled by nearby workers because of those binding components.


EPA defines asbestos-containing material (ACM) as material with an asbestos content greater than 1 percent. ACM is considered either friable or nonfriable, and EPA jurisdiction is controlled primarily by that distinction. Friable means when dry, ACM can be crumbled, pulverized or reduced to powder by hand pressure—making it more susceptible to being inhaled and, therefore, more dangerous; nonfriable ACM ordinarily does not exhibit such characteristics.

EPA defines nonfriable ACM as either Category I or II. Category I nonfriable ACM includes asphalt roofing products and other materials such as packings, gaskets and resilient floor coverings. Category II nonfriable ACM is defined as material not falling into Category I; with respect to roofing, this includes transite roof panels and A/C shingles. Category II nonfriable ACM is more likely to become friable when damaged than Category I ACM.

More specific EPA requirements for notifications, supervision and disposal apply to certain ACM removals if a material falls into the narrower definition of regulated asbestos-containing material (RACM) and a square footage minimum is met on structures other than single-family homes and residences of four or fewer units.

RACM includes:

  • Friable ACM
  • Category I nonfriable ACM that has become friable
  • Category I nonfriable ACM that is sanded, ground, cut or abraded
  • Category II nonfriable ACM that has become or is likely to become crumbled, pulverized or reduced to powder

EPA rules do not apply to roof systems undergoing renovation if they are less than 160 square feet in area. When a powered roof cutter is used in roof system removal, EPA says it creates RACM as a result of its particular cutting action. However, such removals only are subject to stricter EPA requirements if a roof cutter is used on areas exceeding 5,580 square feet and only the debris from the cutter's blade is considered RACM. Removal by hand or power plows that pry or slice ACRM does not fall under EPA rules. The agency has determined these methods do not destroy the material's structural matrix or integrity to cause the release of asbestos fibers in the same way as a roof cutter.

EPA considers asbestos-cement shingles to be Category II nonfriable ACM that may be considered RACM if they have a high probability of being crumbled, pulverized or reduced to powder by the removal process. But the agency specifically states breakage of A/C shingles that occurs during hand removal of nails and the lowering of shingles to the ground does not result in RACM. The same is true for transite panels—incidental breakage from manually removing fasteners does not result in the Category II nonfriable ACM automatically becoming RACM.

EPA's stance is critical because creating RACM during roof system removal triggers several EPA requirements not applicable to ACM removals, including:

  • Written notice to EPA at least 10 working days in advance of the demolition or renovation
  • Presence of a trained, on-site supervisor during the removal of RACM
  • Disposal of RACM at an active asbestos waste disposal site or EPA-approved asbestos waste conversion facility (EPA considers nonfriable ACM from roof system removal regular construction debris.)
  • Creation and retention of asbestos waste shipment and disposal records by the asbestos waste generator for two years
  • Affixing warning signs to trucks carrying asbestos waste shipments to the disposal facility


OSHA construction regulations regarding asbestos are broader in application than EPA rules. Some OSHA rules apply to all work involving ACM removal with stricter rules applying to different types of ACM—similarly defined as having an asbestos content greater than 1 percent.

Your challenge will be complying with OSHA rules vs. EPA rules. OSHA defines four classes of asbestos work (I-IV) with Class II including the removal of ACM found in roofing and siding shingles. Each class of asbestos work has specific work practices and compliance requirements set by OSHA that must be followed.

In all cases, you must ensure no worker is exposed to an airborne concentration of asbestos in excess of 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air during an eight-hour time-weighted average and no more than 1.0 fiber per cubic centimeter of air averaged during a 30-minute sampling period (called an "excursion limit," or the maximum asbestos exposure a worker may have during the stated time period). These are the asbestos permissible exposure limits, or PELs, worker exposures may not exceed during all asbestos removals regardless of the asbestos content of the material (greater or lesser than 1 percent).

The first step toward OSHA compliance requires an assessment of worker exposure to asbestos. The simplest way to accomplish this is to perform a negative exposure assessment that must be based on one of three alternatives:

  • Objective data demonstration—This is a compilation of data that shows the material or activity involving the material cannot release asbestos fibers in concentrations exceeding the PEL. From 1986-91, NRCA compiled several thousand air sampling results from ACRM removals in a database for this purpose.
  • Monitoring earlier jobs—You are permitted to use air-monitoring results from previous company projects "closely resembling" the current operation if taken within 12 months of the current project.
  • Current job monitoring—Results of breathing zone air samples collected from the current project can be used if they represent worker exposures during operations.

One key stumbling block for compliance is a negative exposure assessment must be performed by a competent person, which is an individual who has successfully completed the 40-hour EPA-approved Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act training for contractor or supervisor. Until a negative exposure assessment demonstrating worker exposures will be below the PEL is performed, daily air monitoring of worker exposures to asbestos must be done and workers must wear respirators (there also are comprehensive OSHA regulations pertaining to workers who are required to wear respirators) and whole-body protective clothing. OSHA also requires the competent person supervise all Class II work.

Maintaining the contractor or supervisor certification for a company employee for the purpose of performing negative exposure assessments can be a challenge for many roofing contracting companies. The initial training involves 40 hours of classroom time, and refresher training must be completed every two years after the initial certification.

Training of all workers performing ACRM removals must include the following areas: asbestos recognition, health effects related to exposure, relationship between smoking and asbestos in producing lung cancer, operations that could result in exposure and protective controls to minimize exposure. OSHA requires the training to include a hands-on portion and take a minimum eight hours to complete. A less restrictive OSHA protocol for worker training, competent person qualification and initial exposure assessment is provided for asbestos roof flashing removals and repairs.

State and local rules

Many states have rules related to asbestos removal that tend to treat all products containing asbestos as posing the same health hazard to workers despite years of regulatory experience to the contrary. These rules often are enacted under the pretext of aligning local rules with federal regulations but usually impose permit fees that have a greater effect on state revenues than on bolstering worker safety.

For example, Montana requires an asbestos project permit before any asbestos removal can take place. This involves an inspection by a state-accredited asbestos inspector and a fee equal to 10 percent of the contract costs directly associated with the asbestos removal paid to the state.

Similarly, Cook County, Ill., requires an asbestos removal permit with a $200 filing fee and an inspection fee of $6 per square foot (up to a $2,000 maximum) before a contractor can perform asbestos removal regardless of the nature of the asbestos being removed.

And Ohio recently instituted a regulation that treats any fragments of 4 square inches or less resulting from a removal as RACM for disposal purposes. This distortion of the longstanding definition of RACM demands such material be treated as asbestos-containing waste under the rule with resulting increased expenses for disposal and added record-keeping requirements.

Pay attention

Removal of ACRM demands attention to specific federal asbestos regulatory provisions related to training, work practices and a unique terminology. Of more concern, state and local rules related to asbestos removals may contort established federal nomenclature and overlay a more stringent set of work practices that will add significant costs and paperwork burdens to ACRM removals with little or no effect on worker or public safety.

Harry Dietz is NRCA's director of risk management.

NRCA recommendations

Before you begin a project involving ACRM, NRCA recommends you:

  • Establish a company policy for handling ACRM projects. Make sure workers and supervisors are trained properly.
  • Contact landfills in your area to determine restrictions and costs for ACRM disposal.
  • Before bidding, verify the presence of asbestos in specific roof locations with core samples analyzed by a qualified laboratory. Inform the building owner of the results of those analyses and the necessary work practices and disposal requirements.
  • Before roofing work begins, examine interior underdeck components for the presence of asbestos that may be dislodged by roof system removal or installation. Alert the building owner to ensure ACRM is safely removed or encapsulated before starting work.
  • Minimize air infiltration to the building during removal by sealing windows, air intakes and other openings with the approval of building maintenance personnel.
  • Examine insurance policies, particularly liability policies, to verify coverage for ACRM removal operations.
  • Make sure contract documents do not transfer the liability for the asbestos to your company and include hold-harmless language protecting you in the documents. ACRM generally is a building owner's responsibility. You must not assume liability for it through contract language or actions.
  • Maintain records of all ACRM projects including core sampling results, information used to establish the negative exposure assessment, training records, work practice documentation, waste disposal records, project-related communications, and agency notifications or permits.



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