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Proposed Standard Lays Foundation for Limited Asbestos Screens

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls asbestos a hazardous pollutant whose air emissions pose a significant health risk. The EPA allows some asbestos products and bans others, based on the Clean Air Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act. Misunderstandings exist about regulations for asbestos-containing materials (ACM), products, or uses, EPA notes on its Web site.

Increased litigation and business disputes arising from misunderstandings over limited-asbestos evaluations are driving a task group of ASTM Committee E50 on Environmental Assessment to develop a “Standard Guide for Limited Asbestos Screens of Buildings.” The standard limited asbestos screen will help users to report the presence of interior asbestos when valuing commercial real estate during acquisition, sale or financing. These differ from comprehensive screens performed prior to demolitions or renovations.

“Lenders, brokers, developers, and property owners request these evaluations utilizing various titles (i.e., limited asbestos surveys, limited asbestos evaluations, limited asbestos inspections),” says task group co-chair Anne Puidk Horan, J.D., managing partner, Horan & Horan, Attorneys & Counselors, Rockwall, Texas. The task group is developing a standard “designed to be consistent with this market’s limited objectives as to observations, sample quantities, and related protocols,” she says. “And finally, the scope was refined many times to promote greater understanding and a ‘common language’ between users and providers in an effort to minimize the potential for disputes and costly litigation.”

Protocols for asbestos evaluations can vary between states. Due to the interchangeable and inconsistent use of titles for screens (some of which are inconsistent with state laws), the guide offers a standard title, “Limited Asbestos Screens.” The task group wants to establish reasonable expectations, an industry baseline standard of care, and protocols meaningful to both providers and users of limited asbestos evaluations, she adds.

“Users were frustrated with the inconsistency between provider reports and often utilized scopes of work that did not clearly identify the objectives and scope expected,” she explains. “Providers, on the other hand, were concerned with the possibility of litigation and did not feel that they had an adequate opportunity to discuss and develop scopes of work with users.”

The task group membership is about one-third users, including financial institutions and developers. “We also solicited feedback of other users unable to attend our meetings,” Horan says. “A reading of this standard guide, we believe, reveals a balance between user interests and provider perspectives as to scope and purpose.

“More importantly, this standard guide reflects the involvement and feedback of a diverse group of interested individuals from various states,” she continues, “including environmental consultants (both owners and project managers), asbestos inspectors who perform comprehensive and/or limited asbestos evaluations, engineers, attorneys, developers, national retailers, and financial institutions (both national and regional lenders).

ASTM International has 77 asbestos-related standards. A goal of Committee E50 is to establish good commercial practices that satisfy the due diligence responsibilities of landowners.

In the roughly eight years the task group has been developing the standard, they have reviewed historical failures and difficulties related to prior drafts, and have redrafted the current standard with a fresh point of view, says Horan, who is a risk-reduction attorney for environmental, engineering, asbestos (indoor, air, tank, and ecological), and testing firms.

“Based upon historical problems with detail and language of prior drafts, this guide offers a new, clear and concise language that the layperson as well as the consultant/contractor can understand,” she says.

There are no regulations to date for developing a scope of work for limited asbestos evaluations to guide the performance of providers or meet the needs of commercial real estate users, she notes, only federal/ state standards for comprehensive evaluations required for renovations or demolitions. “ASTM, utilizing a consensus process, offers standards reflective of standard practices out there in the marketplace,” she affirms. “This Standard Guide for Limited Asbestos Screens of Buildings offers recommendations mirroring typical practices of users and providers in ordering and preparing thousands of these asbestos evaluations annually. In addition, it offers a baseline upon which to order these evaluations. Such baselines reduce the potential for misunderstandings and the likelihood of litigation over scope issues.”

For further technical information, contact Anne P. Horan, Horan & Horan, Rockwall, Texas (972/551-800) or co-chair F. Stephen Masek, Masek Consulting Services, Inc., Mission Viejo, Calif. (phone: 949/581-8503). Committee E50 meets Oct. 15-18 in Norfolk, Va. For meeting or membership details, contact Dan Smith, manager, ASTM Technical Committee Operations (phone: 610/832-9727). //

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