Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act

A subchapter of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 (AHERA) “provide[s] for the establishment of Federal regulations which require inspection for asbestos-containing material and [which ensure] implementation of appropriate response actions...in the Nation's schools in a safe and complete manner.” The Act recognizes that there were nearly 34,800 schools in the nation that housed asbestos-containing materials and provided for the removal and disposal of these materials.

EPA Regulations

AHERA sets out the protocols and procedures for dealing with asbestos in schools.  It first points out the necessity of proper inspection and delineates the criteria under which any friable (able to be crumbled by hand) asbestos-containing materials should be evaluated, including damage and potential damage.  Once these criteria are met, the Act refers to individual guidelines in the “Guidance for Controlling Asbestos-Containing Materials in Buildings” (also called the Purple Book), published by the EPA on May 1, 1986.  The Act calls not only for inspection and response, but also “post-response action, including any periodic reinspection of asbestos-containing material and long-term surveillance activity.” Schools must have an inspection performed on their buildings and, if necessary, draft a management plan that includes an inspection statement, the application of warning labels on any asbestos-containing materials, and acknowledgement of the standards set forth in the EPA’s guidance document.  The highest amount of asbestos permissible in air samples is 0.003 fibers per cubic centimeter if observed under a scanning electron microscope or 0.005 fibers per cubic centimeter if viewed under a transmission electron microscope.

Enforcement

Any school that fails to conduct an inspection or develop a management plan or submits falsified documents will be penalized $5,000 a day until the proper documents are submitted.  Schools can also be fined if the asbestos fibers in the air exceed the permissible limit or workers are submitted to dangerous conditions without protective gear.  Similar penalties apply to contractors who perform inspections or removals without the proper accreditation.

Other Provisions

The Act also sets out the requirement for a laboratory accreditation program for standardized sampling and detection methods.  It charges the EPA with conducting a study within the next year to evaluate the risk of asbestos exposure in other public buildings.  The Asbestos School Hazard and Abatement Act (ASHAA) passed two years earlier authorized $600 million in federal loans for schools in need of asbestos abatement, and AHERA adds an additional $100 million over the next four years.  Finally, the Act states that no employee should be fired or submitted to disciplinary action for reporting asbestos violations and provides grants for health and safety training. References:
  • U.S. Congress. (February 2010). “Subchapter II – Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response.” Retrieved March 21, 2011 from Cornell University Law School.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (September 10, 1998). “Signing of Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act.” Retrieved March 21, 2011 from the EPA.