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Occasionally questions still arise about the difference between presumed asbestos-containing material vs suspect asbestos-containing material (suspect ACM) and how these terms relate to the OSHA Asbestos Standards.

In both the OSHA Construction Asbestos Standard (29 CFR 1926.1101) and the General Industry Asbestos Standard (29 CFR 1910.1001) PACM is defined as thermal system insulation (TSI) and surfacing material found in a building constructed no later than 1980. TSI is the material applied to pipes, fittings (joints, “Ts”, elbows, valves, etc.), boilers, breechings, tanks, ducts or other structural components, generally to prevent heat loss or gain. Surfacing material refers to materials sprayed, troweled-on or otherwise applied to surfaces generally for acoustical, fireproofing, or other purposes. Examples of surfacing materials include decorative finishes on ceilings and walls, fireproofing on structural members, and acoustical plasters. OSHA requires that building owners identify presumed asbestos-containing material (PACM) in their buildings and treat the PACM as asbestos-containing materials (ACM) until the materials are proven not to contain asbestos.

Although not defined strictly as “PACM”, both OSHA standards also require asphalt and vinyl flooring material installed no later than 1980 be “considered” and “treated” as asbestos-containing, until the building owner proves the flooring is not ACM. This includes not only the flooring material but associated mastics and backings.

Suspect ACM

The term “suspect ACM” does not appear in either of the OSHA standards. The term, however, has long been used by the asbestos industry to refer to any building material that is suspected of being asbestos-containing (based on appearance, usage, age of building, etc.), but has not been proven conclusively to be ACM (based on sampling and analysis, documentation, building records, etc). For OSHA’s purposes, suspect material would include any material (including TSI, surfacing, and flooring) that a building owner suspects of containing asbestos and is found in a building constructed after 1980, or any material (excepting TSI, surfacing, and flooring) found in a building constructed prior to 1981. Other typical suspect building materials would include ceiling tiles, asbestos-cement products (Transite®), and joint compound. The exercise of due diligence (as noted in the OSHA asbestos standards) requires that, where a building owner knows or should have known that materials other than PACM are asbestos-containing, these materials must be treated as ACM until proven otherwise.

A building constructed prior to 1981, therefore, could contain both PACM and suspect ACM. Newer buildings (constructed after 1980) would contain only suspect ACM.

Courses of action for PACM

Building owners with identified PACM have two courses of action under the OSHA standards: 1) rebut or disprove the PACM designation; or 2) simply continue to treat the PACM as ACM (and follow all OSHA requirements for protecting the health and safety of workers and building occupants).

OSHA allows a building owner to rebut the designation of PACM in two ways:

  1. Have a complete building inspection conducted according to the requirements outlined in the EPA AHERA (Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act) regulation. Samples would have to be collected by an AHERA-accredited Asbestos Building Inspector. All PACM (and suspect ACM, for that matter) would accordingly be included in this inspection.
  2. Collect and analyzing only samples of the PACM identified in a building. OSHA allows samples to be collected by either an accredited inspector or a CIH (Certified Industrial Hygienist). Samples must be collected in the manner described in AHERA.

Also, a building owner may demonstrate that flooring material is not ACM by determination of an “industrial hygienist” based upon recognized analytical techniques.

If the resulting sample analyses indicate that the PACM contains more than one percent (>1%) asbestos, then it is no longer PACM, but proven ACM. If samples are negative for asbestos, then the material is proven non-ACM.

Rebutting PACM

The OSHA regulations appear clear in only allowing the rebuttal of the PACM designation for materials by utilizing the AHERA protocol. Inspections and sampling performed not according to AHERA could not be used to rebut the PACM designation.

(NOTE: Although OSHA in some instances allows a CIH or industrial hygienist to collect samples to rebut PACM or flooring, EPA’s ASHARA (Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act) regulation and the various state regulatory bodies that enforce state asbestos regulations, generally specify that only AHERA-accredited Asbestos Building Inspectors can collect samples of building materials for asbestos analysis. An AHERA-accredited inspector, at the least, must attend an initial three-day asbestos inspection course presented by an approved training provider, pass a 50-question test, and attend a half-day refresher course annually. Additionally, most states require that asbestos inspectors purchase a state license before performing the duties of an asbestos inspector in the state. Therefore, although CIHs and industrial hygienists who collect asbestos samples would be in compliance with OSHA, they would not be in compliance with other federal and state regulations unless they were also accredited as an AHERA Asbestos Building Inspector.)

Courses of action for ACM

As with PACM, building owners with suspect ACM in their buildings have two options: 1) determine whether the materials are actually ACM and treat them accordingly; or 2) just treat the materials as ACM (and follow all OSHA requirements for protecting workers and building occupants).

Building owners who do not follow one of these courses of action would not be exercising due diligence. If a building owner wishes to pursue the first option, the question then becomes, “How does a building owner determine if the suspect material is or is not ACM?”

Rebutting ACM

Like the requirements for rebutting PACM, an AHERA asbestos inspection would appear to be the definitive method for determining if suspect material is or is not ACM. Although this is not specifically stated in the OSHA regulations, would the exercise of due diligence not require that a building owner utilized the “state-of-the-art” method (which is the AHERA inspection) for determining if suspect material is actually ACM? OSHA, however, also allows building owners to rely on building records to show that suspect materials do or do not contain asbestos (see OSHA Directives CPL 2-2.63 (Revised) – “Inspection Procedures for Occupational Exposure to Asbestos Final Rule”, pg 41015 and the Standards Interpretation letter dated 08/20/1997 – “Asbestos surveying and sampling associated with the remodeling, renovation, and demolition of buildings”). These records could include previous asbestos inspections, but may also include other sources of information to show that the materials contain or do not contain asbestos (e.g., as-built drawings, architectural schedules, “asbestos free” certifications, asbestos abatement reports, etc.).

The inherent problem with relying on records, however, is the reliability of the records. Where some records may be accurate and complete and can be relied upon, others may be inaccurate and incomplete, and cannot be relied upon. The building owner, again, would be required to exercise due diligence in using records to identify ACM.