Demolition Asbestos Danger: EPA to Update Regulation on Asbestos Release in Runoff Wastewater


The Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") announced plans to update its Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants ("Asbestos NESHAP") regulation pertaining to demolitions in response to a report from the EPA's Office of Inspector General ("OIG") that found the current guidance in this area to be "dated and disparate" because it permits demolitions that can potentially release quantities of asbestos into runoff wastewater that exceed the legal limit.

The Asbestos NESHAP aims to protect the public by requiring safety measures that minimize the release of asbestos fibers during building renovations and demolitions. It requires properly certified asbestos consultants to thoroughly inspect demolition and renovation job sites for asbestos and notify appropriate state agencies before demolition or renovation can begin. The Asbestos NESHAP does not provide set numerical limits on asbestos emissions, however it does require that trained asbestos technicians remove intact asbestos-containing materials (containing more than one percent asbestos) in structurally sound buildings prior to demolition and mandates zero visible emissions to the outside air from the removal of such materials.

Another regulation, section 103(a) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation & Liability Act ("CERCLA"), requires facility owners to notify the federal National Response Center of any asbestos release in excess of one pound of asbestos fibers over a 24-hour period.

An exception under the Asbestos NESHAP allows buildings to be demolished that are structurally unsound and in imminent danger of collapse without requiring the facility operators to determine if a demolition could result in a quantity of asbestos release requiring notification under CERCLA. Under this exception, when asbestos-containing materials cannot safely be removed from such a building, the materials are allowed to remain during demolition, although they must be wetted to prevent air emissions. The Asbestos NESHAP does not require any treatment of the resulting asbestos-contaminated runoff wastewater.

The OIG performed several controlled experiments and found that the runoff wastewater from imminent danger of collapse demolitions can often exceed legally reportable quantity for asbestos under CERCLA. Additionally, the OIG found that that virtually all buildings constructed with Transite, a brand of asbestos-containing products commonly used in construction in the 1960s and '70s, can release reportable quantities of asbestos during demolition. The OIG's report therefore concluded that NESHAP demolitions under this exception can violate CERCLA requirements.

The OIG report recommends that the Asbestos NESHAP be reviewed and updated to specifically address the contamination of runoff wastewater at demolition sites. The EPA is assembling a team of experts from the enforcement, waste, and general counsel offices to advise proposed changes.

To learn more about how federal asbestos regulations can affect you, please contact David M. Governo at [email protected] or Colin N. Holmes at [email protected].