Division Title

Asbestos Program


Asbestos–Containing Materials (ACM) may be present at the NIH as pipe, duct and equipment insulation; core material of Virginia Metal wall partitions; original wooden doors; acoustical ceiling plaster; ceiling tiles; duct mastic; floor tiles and their associated mastic; asbestos-cement sheets (transite board) and spray-on fireproofing. These materials are most commonly found in mechanical rooms, pipe chases, stairwells and above suspended ceilings.


The potential for asbestos-containing material to release airborne fibers depends on its degree of friability. Friability is the ability of materials, when dry, to be crumbled, pulverized, or reduced to powder by hand pressure. The sprayed-on or troweled-on materials used as acoustical plaster on ceilings or as fireproofing is considered friable and readily releases airborne fibers if disturbed. Materials such as vinyl-asbestos floor tiles are considered non-friable and do not release airborne fibers unless sanded or broken. Transite board can release fibers only if sawed, drilled or broken.


Whenever suspect asbestos containing materials are encountered in a work area at the NIH, the presence or absence of asbestos will be confirmed by sampling and analysis conducted by Office of Research Services (ORS), Division of Occupational Health and Safety (DOHS).


Information regarding the NIH locations where the presence or absence of asbestos has been documented is maintained by the ORS, DOHS, Technical Assistance Branch (TAB).

Health Effects

Asbestos can cause disabling disease and several types of cancer if significant amounts of the fibers are inhaled. The symptoms of these generally do not appear until 20 or more years after initial exposure. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established a Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter (f/cc) of air over an 8-hour work shift, and a short term exposure limit (STEL) of not more than 1 f/cc averaged over 30 minutes.


Employees potentially exposed to asbestos in concentrations greater than the PEL exposure limits as a part of their work are required to participate in the asbestos medical surveillance program administered by the NIH ORS, DOHS, Occupational Medical Service (OMS) and the NIH Respiratory Protection Program administered by the ORS, DOHS, TAB.


The management of asbestos containing materials at the NIH campus involves the efforts of several Divisions within the NIH organizational structure.


ORS, DOHS provides facilities personnel with training and guidance in recognizing and responding to potential asbestos containing materials in buildings throughout the campus. Trained Office of Research Facilities Development and Operations (ORFDO) personnel may work around asbestos containing materials (ACM); however, they are not permitted to disturb or remove asbestos. Employees and contractors are responsible for ensuring that areas are assessed for ACM prior to commencement of any renovation or demolition activities. If new suspect materials are discovered during the course of a project, personnel shall halt operations and immediately contact ORS, DOHS. 


ORS, DOHS provides technical guidance on employee protection when disturbing asbestos, as well as coordination of collection and analysis of suspected asbestos containing materials. ORS, DOHS also reviews asbestos abatement plans submitted by contractors and coordinates air monitoring of asbestos abatement projects to assess airborne levels and to provide re-occupancy clearances.


On December 22, 2009 the NIH adopted several policy changes regarding asbestos abatement oversight and clearance sampling. The letter explaining the changes can be found here.


The Division of Environmental Protection (DEP) coordinates final shipments of asbestos containing materials and asbestos waste. The DEP provides shipping documents for compliance with federal waste regulations and signs as the “generator” on all shipping documents.


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