In two prior posts, I discussed the recent Ohio EPA rule change to its asbestos rules.  As discussed previously, Ohio EPA added a single sentence to definition of "friable asbestos" appearing in Ohio Administrative Code Rule 3745-20-01.  The sentence states:

Any category I or category II asbestos containing material that becomes damaged from either deterioration or attempts at removal or abatement resulting in small fragments the size of four square inches or less shall also be considered friable or RACM.

The change is being referred to as the "four square inch" rule. 

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.  Ohio EPA has maintained that all they were doing was providing greater clarity as to what the term "small fragments" refers to in the rule.

BECO Luncheon Highlights Controversy Regarding 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 one 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.

The takeaway from the discussion–  If you leave Category I asbestos material in place during demolition, you run the risk that from the point of demolition to disposal in a landfill it gets broken into small fragments which the Agency may consider a violation.  The Agency said said one piece four inches in size wouldn’t be a violation, there would have to be a "substantial" amount of such small fragments.  What constitutes "substantial" would be decided on a case by case basis.