The Importance of AHERA (Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act) and some cautions to be aware of when working with General Contractors.

Asbestos, once hailed as the “magic mineral” for its heat resistance, strength, and insulation capabilities, is now known to pose severe health risks when inhaled or ingested. The understanding of these dangers prompted the United States Congress to pass the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) in 1986. Let’s explore the significance of AHERA, what it covers, and why there are laws surrounding asbestos.

Just the other week, I had a GC (General Contractor) reach out to me in regards to a job. They were installing new flooring in a school. Schools are required under AHERA (Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act) to have an asbestos management plan in place. The contractor and his employees began removing carpet and noticed laminate underneath, instead of stopping work the GC told the employees to continue. The janitor of the building pointed out to the GC that the flooring may be asbestos containing and he should test.

He reached out to me and I asked him about the management plan, he said there wasn’t one, so I went out the next day. There turned out to be 3 different types of asbestos containing flooring intact in areas throughout the building. There was also a 30 yard dumpster full of asbestos containing flooring materials present. An asbestos management plan was done in 2022 confirming the flooring was asbestos containing material. The inspector then has to report a spill to the state of Colorado as it is more than 3 sqft of materials disturbed. The State of Colorado is holding the GC responsible for a Spill Cleanup in the building and in the dumpster.

The reason this is so important, and why I bring this up, is that GC’s should be testing in both residential and commercial areas, and not ignore the requirements set by CDPHE, which is unfortunately all too common. Yes, as a homeowner, you can do whatever you want, however when you move materials to the outside of the home you can be held responsible for cleanup. This can be extremely costly and drag your project out for months. So, I thought a primer on asbestos, and understanding the requirements set by the CDPHE and AHERA were something I should touch on. 

Also note, that trigger levels for Asbestos Spills are not only determined by the trigger but the type of facility is key. For a school the trigger level is 3 sqft of materials, residential homes are 32 sqft of materials, a commercial space is 160 sqft. Knowing these details in crucial to any project, and is why it’s important to find out if you are dealinz with hazardous material early on.

What is Asbestos? Why is it a Hazard?

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals used in various construction materials because of its resilience and resistance to heat and chemicals. However, when asbestos-containing materials deteriorate or are disturbed, tiny asbestos fibers can be released into the air. If inhaled, these fibers can lodge in the lungs, leading to long-term health issues, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

The Birth of AHERA

Given the known dangers of asbestos, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) came into existence to protect public health. The act requires local educational agencies to inspect schools for asbestos-containing building material, prepare asbestos management plans, and perform asbestos abatement actions as necessary.

Why is AHERA Important?

  1. Protection of Vulnerable Populations: Schools are bustling places filled with students, teachers, and staff. Children, who spend significant hours in these buildings, are particularly susceptible to the hazards of asbestos due to their developing respiratory systems. AHERA ensures that these vulnerable groups are protected from potential asbestos exposure.
  2. Standardized Action Plans: AHERA mandates that each school should not only identify and report asbestos-containing materials but also create a management plan. This plan outlines the necessary steps and precautions to manage or eliminate asbestos-related risks.
  3. Routine Inspections and Maintenance: Under AHERA, schools must undergo regular inspections, ensuring that any deterioration or disturbance of asbestos-containing materials is quickly identified and addressed.

Why Are There Laws Surrounding Asbestos?

  1. Health Concerns: As mentioned earlier, prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to debilitating and often fatal illnesses. Laws are put in place to minimize or eliminate these health risks.
  2. Environmental Impact: When asbestos materials are not properly managed or disposed of, they can contaminate the environment. This puts not only humans but also wildlife at risk.
  3. Economic Burden: The healthcare costs associated with treating asbestos-related diseases are enormous. By regulating asbestos and enforcing proper management and abatement, we can potentially save billions in medical expenses.
  4. Public Awareness: Laws surrounding asbestos ensure that the public is educated about its risks. This awareness allows individuals to make informed decisions, advocate for safer environments, and seek necessary medical monitoring or treatment if exposed.

In conclusion, AHERA is a testament to the government’s commitment to protecting its citizens, especially the younger generation, from the harmful effects of asbestos. Through standardized guidelines, regular inspections, and clear action plans, schools across the nation are better equipped to manage and mitigate asbestos-related hazards. It’s a vital reminder of the importance of public health regulations and the proactive steps we can take to ensure safer environments for everyone.

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