Signing of Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act

[EPA press release - October 23, 1986]

Attached is a fact sheet on the new asbestos law signed yesterday by the President and a statement by EPA Administrator Lee M. Thomas.

Statement by Lee M. Thomas

[October 22, 1986]

I am pleased that President Reagan has today signed into law the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986. The Act directs EPA to develop a regulatory framework to require schools to inspect their buildings for asbestos and take appropriate abatement actions using qualified, accredited persons for inspection and abatement.

EPA believes that the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act represents a positive step toward protecting the estimated 15 million students and 1.4 million employees who are potentially exposed to friable asbestos-containing material in 35,000 schools.

H.R. 5073


Since the late 1970s, EPA has been focusing its attention on the disease-causing potential of exposure to airborne asbestos in schools. According to a 1984 EPA survey, approximately 34,800 schools were believed to have friable asbestos-containing materials (ACM), potentially exposing an estimated 15 million students and 1.4 million school employees. (The term friable describes materials that may be crumbled or reduced to powder by hand pressure.)

The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) of 1986 (H.R. 5073) was introduced by Congress in spring 1986 to "provide for the establishment of Federal regulations which require inspection for asbestos-containing material and [which ensure] implementation of appropriate response the Nation's schools in a safe and complete manner." After different versions of the bill were passed by the two houses in summer, congressional staff produced a compromise agreement in late September. The agreement passed the House on October 1, 1986, and the Senate two days later, both times by voice vote. The act was presented to President Reagan for signature on October 14, 1986.

Summary of Major Components

The main components of H.R. 5073 are...

First, EPA promulgates regulations within a year which provide a framework for addressing asbestos hazards in schools. (Proposed rules re due within six months.) Regulatory standards are established for:

  • Inspections

  • Circumstances which require response actions (abatement activity)

  • Appropriate response actions

  • Implementation of response actions

  • Operations and maintenance programs

  • Periodic surveillance of asbestos

  • Transport and disposal

  • Management plan requirements for schools

EPA also develops, within six months and for state use, model accreditation programs for people who inspect for asbestos, develop management plans, and conduct abatement work.

Second, all public and private elementary and secondary schools conduct inspections for asbestos-containing materials (ACM) and develop management plans which describe abatement actions which will be undertaken. Plans, developed in conformance with EPA's new regulatory standards, must be submitted to the States within two years.

Third, States use the EPA models to develop accreditation programs for inspectors, management plan developers and abatement contractors within six months after the beginning of their next legislative session. Also, school management plans, submitted to the States, are automatically approved if not disapproved by the Governor two months after submission.

Fourth, schools implement their management plans within two years and eight months and complete appropriate response actions in a timely fashion.

Waiver for State Programs

EPA may waive, upon request of a Governor and after notice and comment in the affected State, some or all of the requirements of the EPA regulations for States which have established and are implementing a program of inspection and management at least as stringent as required by the Act.

If EPA fails to promulgate regulations within 360 days...

  • The Purple Book ("Guidance for Controlling Asbestos-Containing Materials in Buildings," EPA 560/5-85-024, June 1985) takes effect in lieu of regulations.

  • The Asbestos Waste Management Guidance booklet takes effect in lieu of transport and disposal regulations.

  • Clearance levels for abatement projects are set at .003 by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and .005 by transmission electron microscopy (TEM).

  • School districts are required to meet the following deadlines:
    • 540 days to conduct inspections;

    • 720 days to implement O&M plan for friable ACM;

    • 810 days to develop management plan and submit to Governor;

    • 990 days to implement management plan.

Other Significant Provisions

  1. Laboratory Accreditation - The National Bureau of Standards is required to establish a laboratory accreditation program for bulk sampling within one year and for air sampling within two years.

  2. EPA Study of Public Buildings - The Agency is required to conduct a study within a year which assesses, among other things, the extent to which ACM is present in public and commercial buildings, the condition of the material and exposure of occupants in these buildings, and the need to apply the same inspection and response action regulations prescribed for schools in H.R. 5073 to other buildings.

  3. EPA Report on Liability - The Agency must submit to Congress an interim report on the availability of liability insurance for schools and contractors by April 1, 1988. A final report, which addresses a variety of liability concerns, is due on October 1, 1990.

  4. Asbestos Ombudsman - EPA appoints an ombudsman to receive complaints and grievances and to render assistance.

  5. Enforcement - Schools which fail to conduct inspections, knowingly submit false information to the Governor, or fail to develop a management plan in accordance with the regulations, can be assessed a civil penalty under Sec. 16 of TSCA of up to $5,000 for each day during which the violation continues. Civil penalties assessed shall be used by schools to comply with requirements of this act (e.g., to conduct abatement work). Unspent portions of civil penalties are deposited in the Asbestos Trust Fund (see below).

  6. Asbestos Trust Fund - Loans repaid under the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act (ASHAA) are collected in an Asbestos Trust Fund. These funds are available for asbestos hazard abatement activities under ASHAA.

  7. ASHAA Funds for Inspection and Plan Development - For fiscal years 1988 and 1989 EPA shall provide financial assistance (up to 10% of ASHAA funds) in the form of grants to states or school districts to carry out inspections and prepare management plans associated with the new Act. States can use up to 2 percent of grant for administrative purposes. EPA must consider financial need when approving grants to schools.

  8. Use of Accredited Personnel - Only persons accredited by States or through courses approved by the EPA can inspect, prepare management plans, or design or conduct response actions. Schools which apply for ASHAA funds are not eligible unless they use accredited personnel.

  9. Emergency Authority - EPA or the Governor is authorized to act if a school is not taking sufficient action to abate asbestos which presents an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health.

  10. Effect on Litigation - It is not the intent of Congress that the Act or any rule, regulations or orders issued pursuant to the act be interpreted as influencing the disposition of any civil action for damages relating to asbestos.

  11. Funding Authorization - The Act amends ASHAA to authorize $100 million in supplemental funding--$25 million for each of fiscal years 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1990.

Other EPA Asbestos Programs

In 1979, the Agency began providing technical assistance to schools and other building owners, primarily through a network of Regional Asbestos Coordinators (RACs). Currently, EPA's ten RACs, assisted by approximately 43 inspectors hired through a grant with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), average between 1,000 and 1,500 assistance contracts each month.

On May 27, 1982, the Agency issued the Asbestos in Schools Identification and Notification Rule (ASINR), which required that by June 28, 1983, all primary and secondary schools must inspect buildings for the presence of friable asbestos materials, sample and analyze materials found, and maintain records of all findings. If ACM was discovered, schools were required to post notices, provide guidance to maintenance personnel, and notify parents or parent/teacher organizations. The Agency has established an office which enforces compliance with this rule.

On August 11, 1984, President Reagan signed the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act (ASHAA), which authorized $600 million in Federal loans and grants to schools with severe asbestos hazards and demonstrated financial need. In response to the ASHAA, the Agency issued $45 million in awards for 417 individual abatement projects in 340 public and private schools in summer 1985. In 1986, the Agency issued another $47 million to 295 schools for an additional 421 projects.

In association with ASHAA, EPA has awarded 33 grants to states for contractor certification and training programs and funded five information and training centers and four other satellite training centers to improve the quality of abatement project management and oversight.