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 Resources: Asbestos
December 24, 2013
Applicability of the Asbestos NESHAP to Underground Pipes

The Clean Air Act’s National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) specific to asbestos (40 CFR Part 61, Subpart M) has been affecting decisions about the demolition, removal, and replacement of underground pipes containing asbestos-containing material (ACM).  This issue has been an ongoing concern for a number of sectors, including water utilities that have been working to replace many older underground pipes that contain asbestos. 

As with all other NESHAPs, Subpart M was developed to prevent or limit release of toxic pollutants to the ambient air.  This would certainly apply to underground pipes that are exposed to the air when trenches are excavated to perform the work.  However, for some years now, several newer technologies have come into fashion that enable older pipes to be removed and replaced by new piping without the need to dig trenches.  If these pipes contain ACM, does Subpart M take effect even if the ACM is not emitted to the atmosphere?  While there has been a great deal of discussion between regulated parties and the EPA about whether the original asbestos NESHAP was written with this situation in mind, the answer appears to be yes.

Regulated ACM

The asbestos NESHAP imposes several sets of minimum requirements on demolition and renovation projects where regulated ACM (RACM) is present.  (RACM includes friable ACMs; Category I nonfriable materials that have become or will become friable, or have been subject to sanding, grinding, cutting, burning, or abrading; and Category II nonfriable materials that have a high probability of becoming, or have become, crumbled, pulverized, or reduced to powder by the work practices used during the course of demolition or renovation.)

First, the regulatory authority, which is usually the state, must be notified of the intent to renovate or demolish.  Notifications must contain certain information, including the scheduled starting and completion date of the work, the location of the site, the names of operators or asbestos removal contractors, methods of removal and the amount of asbestos, and whether the operation is a demolition or renovation.

Second, the NESHAP requires that work practice standards be followed to control asbestos emissions. Work practices often involve removing all ACMs, adequately wetting all RACM, sealing the material in leak-tight containers, and disposing of the asbestos-containing waste material as expediently as practicable.

The NESHAP was largely written to apply to the demolition and renovation of buildings.  However, compliance with the rule is also required if 260 linear feet or more of asbestos-containing pipe is or will become RACM.  Specifically, the NESHAP applies if the pipe has become or will become crushed, crumbled, or pulverized.

Trenchless technology

There are currently two “trenchless” practices to replace underground piping. 

  • Pipe bursting involves pulling an expander through old pipe to break it up while towing new pipe behind it.  Pieces of the old pipe are pushed into the surrounding soil.
  • Pipe reaming employs a drill that back-reams through the host pipe, enlarging the hole while grinding up the existing pipe. The fragments of the host pipe, along with other cuttings, are suspended in drilling fluid and are pushed ahead of the reamer through the existing pipe to a recovery pit or manhole where they are extracted, separated, and disposed.  The replacement pipe attached to the reaming tool is pulled in as the reamer advances.

In both cases, RACM is created because the action falls under EPA’s interpretation of crushing, crumbling, or pulverizing the ACM.  In discussions and presentations, the EPA has expressed a preference for pipe reaming because the RACM can be removed from the site.  In the case of pipe bursting, not removing the RACM may make the site subject to EPA’s active asbestos waste site requirements at 40 CFR 61.154, which include surrounding the area with a barrier or posting warning signs.  If no additional RACM is placed at the site for 1 year, the site becomes an inactive waste disposal site subject to a different set of requirements, including adding a notation to a deed or any other official document that would be examined during a title search to indicate that the site has been used for the disposal of asbestos-containing waste material. 

Also, if the underground pipe with ACM is undisturbed during the project, the NESHAP does not apply.