Many people today have a false perception of the hazards of asbestos containing materials which are installed in buildings in the United States. Asbestos in most building materials is an additive in a material at a fairly low percentage (usually in the range of 1% – 10%). Asbestos is not a health hazard to humans unless it becomes airborne and is inhaled. The vast majority of asbestos containing manufactured building materials are what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calls “intact” materials. This means that the fibers of asbestos are bound in the matrix of the material and are not free to float in the air. On the other hand, if a person used a mechanical grinder or sander on the material, it would become “non-intact”. The matrix is destroyed or pulverized and the fibers are free to float in the air (and they will).
So, the concept of asbestos management is to be able to operate a building and maintain its systems in a normal functioning manner without causing the asbestos fibers in an ACM (asbestos containing material) to become airborne. The presence of ACM is not a hazard to building occupants. The presence of asbestos fibers floating or “entrained” in the air is. Most buildings in the United States contain ACM.
This concept of operations and management of ACM is specific to the interior portions of occupied buildings. It is not about repairing a leaking asbestos cement pipe in a trench in a roadway. It is not about repairing a damaged roof or exterior construction. It has a twofold agenda: protect the building occupants from asbestos exposure because of maintenance disturbance of ACM and protect the facility maintenance worker from exposure to asbestos because of disturbing the ACM in his building.
The following is a quote from EPA upon the publication of their 1990 “Green Book” on O&M:
“…Emphasizing the importance and effectiveness of a good O&M program is a critical element of EPA’s broader effort to put the potential hazard and risk of asbestos exposure in proper perspective…which EPA hopes will calm the unwarranted fears that a number of people seem to have about the mere presence of asbestos in their buildings and discourage the spontaneous decisions by some building owners to remove all asbestos containing material regardless of its condition.“
-From “Operations and Maintenance – Managing Asbestos in Place in Buildings”
The Asbestos Institute, 2019