Standards Impact

The Fight for Cleaner Air

April 10, 2024 ASTM International Season 2 Episode 3
The Fight for Cleaner Air
Standards Impact
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Standards Impact
The Fight for Cleaner Air
Apr 10, 2024 Season 2 Episode 3
ASTM International

Wildfires. Chemical spills. Asbestos. Our air is at risk. 

On this episode of Standards Impact, experts Frank Ehrenfeld of International Asbestos Testing Laboratories, and Tom Laubenthal, owner of TGL Consulting, talk about what is being done to fight back. 

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Presented by ASTM International

Show Notes Transcript

Wildfires. Chemical spills. Asbestos. Our air is at risk. 

On this episode of Standards Impact, experts Frank Ehrenfeld of International Asbestos Testing Laboratories, and Tom Laubenthal, owner of TGL Consulting, talk about what is being done to fight back. 

Follow Us

Presented by ASTM International

JP Ervin (00:14):

I am JP Ervin of ASTM International. On this episode of Standards Impact, I'm talking to Frank Ehrenfeld of International Asbestos Testing Laboratories. And Tom Laubenthal, owner of TGL Consulting. Frank and Tom are both experts in the field of air quality with decades of experience in asbestos detection and testing. They're also both members of a ASTM's committee on Air Quality (D 22). During our conversation, we discussed a broad range of issues related to air quality. The topic has attracted greater attention from the general public in light of highly visible air quality, scarce, think of skies darkened by wildfires, or the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment. But Tom and Frank explained the importance of air quality goes deeper affecting the home and workplace. They discuss the enduring legacy of hazards like asbestos and lead paint, as well as the steps being taken by ASTM members to improve air quality around the globe. Before we get into our conversation, we'll hear from standardization news Editor-in-Chief David Walsh for our standard spotlight section.

David Walsh (01:21):

It is no secret that the world's population is aging. Just check the news cycle on a given day, and you'll find any number of stories on the subject. And while people living longer lives is fundamentally a great thing for humanity, of course, a rapidly growing aging population also comes with challenges for society. A recent report from the World Health Organization says that the proportion of the world's population over 60 is currently 12%, but it will nearly double between now and the year 2050, rising to 22%. This raises the question, how will the world's countries ensure that their social systems are ready to handle this expanding demographic? One element that will play a major role in keeping the aging population safer and helping them live higher quality lives as standards. And ASTM International has many in this area that are either published or in development.


A few in particular come from the Committee on Consumer Products (F15). And these include a standard for grab bars and accessories and bathing areas intended to help in prevent falls. Also, a specification for clothing storage units intended to safeguard against the very real risk of tip overs, which injure thousands of older people every year. Finally, there's a specification for adult portable bedrails and related products, which is intended to help mitigate against fall risks and the potential for entrapment. These are all just a few examples of the critical role standards we'll play in making life safer and better for older adults in the coming decades.

JP Ervin (02:44):

To start off, I wanted to say air quality's, I think, becoming more visible in public life, especially outdoor air quality due to things like wildfires and people getting air quality alerts on their phone at all times. But I think it's one of those topics that unless people see New York sky lit up, like it's in the movie Dune or something, people don't really think about it too much. And so I wanted to ask big picture first, why should people care about air quality and pay attention to these kind of issues?

Frank Ehrenfeld (03:09):

Well, let, let me jump in here and say that most people, I don't think really think about air quality. Uh, they take it for granted. Uh, it's like, um, you take for granted that your phone is gonna connect every morning until it doesn't. Then all of a sudden you're concerned. Same thing with air quality. Uh, the people in East Palestine, Ohio were not concerned about air quality until that large environmental and occupational incident that occurred with the, uh, the train wreck there. Uh, and you visibly you could see what was going on with the air as, uh, all kinds of hazards were being released into the air. And that also included, uh, it was drifting over the, uh, the population and into their homes and into schools. And now all of a sudden it becomes a real issue and people are then concerned. So it's something that's always all around us. And it's not just the environmental side of it, but it's the occupational side. It's all those construction workers. It's all those people doing their jobs and manufacturing or in other settings that also may be exposed to hazards. So it's something where the professionals that are involved here realize that it has to be sort of like constant vigilance. And so that's why, uh, we do what we do at ASTM International and D 22 Air Quality, and the number of subcommittees that have sort of domains within the air quality lexicon of, of, of interest there.

Tom Laubenthal (04:40):

Well, I grew up in a very interesting place, Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1960s. And we had four operating steel mills. And the thing we called the Clean Air Act was absolutely essential to the quality of life in a place like that. As a child, we would go to the opposite side of town to visit my grandmother and go buy the steel mills when they were producing Coke to produce iron. And you could smell the sulfur for miles. Uh, people that lived anywhere near those factories could not keep paint on a house. They would use asphalt shingles on the side of their houses. So I grew up in an environment when the Clean Air Act finally hit, we absolutely noticed a difference in why it really mattered, and the health aspects of people that live in cities like that improved along with the Clean Water Act.


'cause as, you know, lake Rie itself, and most of those Great Lakes were terribly polluted. So I grew up with a perspective of that. And then the other side of it, as an adult, I'm terribly affected by pollen, so we have to pay attention to things like that. Uh, but as Frank said, the thing that we're really involved with is, is the breathing air quality of people in the workplace. It's a lot of what we do, uh, people that are in demolition renovation work, and again, working in a power plant, a big factory where there could be asbestos and other toxins involved. And how we determine that, because these are the kinds of things people can't see and they don't know whether they're being exposed. And there is no notice that shows up on a cell phone. So the type of standard practices that we have, uh, with the A STM and D 2207 is trying to make these measurements. They give people a sense of where their safety maybe or not.

JP Ervin (06:15):

Great. And you, you both already broached on the occupational side, and I, I wanted to zero in on that because I think the, the more invisible part is the indoor aspect or the occupational, or the house and things like that. I think people, especially with all the attention on pollen and wildfires and things, there's an assumption that if you are inside, you're fine. And if you're outside, then that's, that's where the danger is. So I, I was curious if you could zero in a bit more on indoor air quality, where it, where it matters, the types of settings, why it matters so much.

Frank Ehrenfeld (06:46):

Let's even take a step further and discuss all of the domain of D 22. Uh, for air quality. There are 13 subcommittees. Uh, there are 560 plus members. Last time I looked. Uh, all volunteer experts from various interests and stakeholders, uh, from laboratories, academic people, regulatory people are involved, um, industrial hygienists, engineers, et cetera. Um, but we have a committee on that does nothing but quality assurance for, um, air quality. We do, we have a committee on metrology, so how to measure the air. We have committee, uh, on workplace environments of the occupational side. So think osha, we have a, another committee on ambient air or environmental air think, um, you know, EPA and knee app. Uh, we then have, uh, another subcommittee, which I'm the chair of on asbestos, uh, sampling and analysis and other microscopic part particles. We have a committee on fungal spores and mold and microbiology. And, uh, that goes right down the list, including lead hazards and others. So, um, it's quite comprehensive, but the public usually only wants to know about two things, indoor air and outdoor air. And on the occupational side, Tom, uh, that's sort of his neck of the woods. And it's, I think it's all driven Tom by the regulatory environment. No regs, no codes, no statutes or laws, and none of this gets done.

Tom Laubenthal (08:25):

It's absolutely the case. And if you go back to the early 1970s when we started seeing regulations from the EPA, uh, environmental Protection Agency and osha, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and you have to think about what EPA is, land, water, and air, uh, but they also deal with the indoor side. OSHA is the workplace environment. So how people are affected by the work in the materials that they work with. And in many of the things that are part of D 22, the, the Grand Archer Committee that we have, um, a lot of things are regulated, but we have some things like mold, which can certainly affect people's health. There really aren't a whole lot of regulations. So what we have to do is kind of cobble together standard practices to best figure out how to make these measurements and then report them and allow the industrial hygienists to work with their clients to figure out what is safe, what isn't safe.

JP Ervin (09:16):

I think more people know about the Clean Air Act. A decent amount of people are aware of osha, things like that. But I, I, I think the standards part is, is the other thing I wanted to zero in on and just kinda ask you both, what is standards role to play? 'cause obviously regulation is important, but standards themselves, uh, both in regulation and in unregulated areas are a huge driver. So I wanted to ask you both why that area matters, what it's doing, that sort of thing.

Frank Ehrenfeld (09:42):

Well, how about if I grab the big picture here? The question is why standards? Why do we need them? What are their value? Uh, where do they come into play? Um, right now, I also am chair of, uh, another A STM, um, sort of ad hoc, uh, group, the incident response task group. I mentioned the East Palestine train wreck. Um, and we are pulling together professionals from all the regulators, um, and from varied interests, including National Transportation, safety Board, EPA, et cetera, looking at how to create a standard. So first responders can show up, they can quickly assess and evaluate the situation, monitor things like the air and what might be spilling into the ground or into the water, and then, uh, come up with a prescribed response. And planning that a standard lists, like, almost like a flow chart. Think of it this way.


Uh, right now, without standards in court, a group could show up and say, um, I, we've been exposed to a level of a hazardous material. And one side could say, we tested it, and this, these are the numbers we got. The other side of the issue could say, oh, yeah, well, we tested it and these are our numbers. Well, somebody in the middle, like a judge should be asking, what methods, analytical methods did you use to collect the samples, to analyze the samples and to calculate and, and report the various concentrations? In order to level the playing field, there needs to be harmonization. So both sides are on the same page. Standards create that. I used A STM standard, you know, 1, 2, 3, they used A STM standard 1, 2, 3, everybody should be on the same page. The data now makes sense instead of people making it up as they go, like the wild, wild west. So standards helps to create a sense of all stakeholders being on the same page, and therefore it can be science-based, and it can be real, and it can be repeated and reproducible.

Tom Laubenthal (11:50):

Well, certain things that we, we talk about in regulations that, uh, are fairly laid out. Uh, not everything is, and sometimes there are paths of inquiry that people have that there really wasn't a method for it. And people would just, as Frank mentioned, you know, somebody does A, B, C, another person does X, Y, Z. So over the years, what we've done is we've created standard practices to fill those gaps and to give people a way in which to make measurements that we can all agree on, as he says on the same page. But there's multiple ways of doing it. How do we find things in a building? How do we quantify that? Uh, if we have a dispersal of material, how great is that dispersal? And how wide is that dispersal? And what we have found early on in this industry is there were a lot of people that would use whatever method they thought was appropriate. But as Frank said, when it finally gets down to administrative court with say, EP or osha, or if it's a civil case, uh, the judge is gonna be looking for standardization. And the process that is really important with a s TM International is the fact that when we create standard practices, it's not just those that want to create that standard practice, we allow all members to have an opinion. So that way what we're doing is we're trying to get a balance between stakeholder input and needs in terms of what those standard practices might provide.

Frank Ehrenfeld (13:08):

Yeah, the standards creation process is rather robust. Um, and there are other standards, um, organizations, um, in the world and, um, a member of, of many of them. But I will tell you right now, A STM International has the most rigid and robust, uh, standardization process among all these other providers. Uh, it is unparalleled. So you know that when A STM finally creates that product, that standard, that practice or that guide that, there's a lot that went into it. And again, the word consensus so hard to achieve means that it really was able to go to get through all of those hoops and hurdles. And there's a product that will stand up that so that it will be effective and meaningful.

Tom Laubenthal (13:56):

I would've to agree in that the consensus process is very important. And people don't realize when we go to the table to either create a standard practice or even to revise a standard practice, sometimes this takes years. This isn't months. And it has everything to do with satisfying the needs of all voters that are part of that process. So in the long run, when we finally do cobble these things together, uh, we can actually say that we've taken input from people on all sides, and everyone has to agree. So the point being is with a STM standard practices of varying kinds, the consensus and voting process has to be satisfied, otherwise it remains in limbo or doesn't exist at all. So Frank's right, it's a very rigid and durable process.

JP Ervin (14:41):

I wanted to ask a bit about the committee's history, because one of the things I I find really interesting about A SDM is that it's very much evolved with the times. And one of the things that's that's true is there started to be a lot of greater consciousness about environmental issues, uh, both occupational and kind of preservation of nature and things like that. And A STM was, I think, really great at in paying attention to a lot of these issues, supporting groups like EPA and things. So I, I was curious if you would talk a bit about the history of the committee and how, uh, you know, our own involvement with these kinds of issues unfolded throughout the years.

Frank Ehrenfeld (15:19):

So, um, be aware that, uh, D 22 will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in I think two years. Um, uh, it started out coinciding with the, even before the Clean Air Act and, and what became regulated. They know they needed to have some standards behind that to support, uh, what was going to become the Clean Air Act. And then the other, um, um, regulations that, um, came into being after that. And so, uh, professionals, academic groups, uh, regulators all came together and it grew from there. Again, D 22 itself, um, over 560 members, um, at this point, probably just under a thousand standards in that large group. And with the A STM process, it's set up. So they have, all these standards have to be reviewed in a timely manner, and they're so that these standards are updated with technology and practices and things evolve. And, uh, these standards are a living document and they grow and they change as well. Um, you know, to, to your, your, your question jp, um, we're always conscious of, okay, what is not really being used anymore? And or what's the new thing? Therefore, in the last several years now we have some standards on nanoparticles. Now we have some standards on PFAS, which is a big thing in our ambient air group. We are evolving with the nature of, uh, what can be harmful to us in the environment or in the workplace.

Tom Laubenthal (16:53):

So in the long run, what standard practices do a lot of times is to help fill gaps in regulations where they say, try to accomplish this, but they're not, they're not specific all the time about how to accomplish it. So we've come up with various things to help people meet those goals in over the years, and they have evolved. We've had some standard practices that dropped off, but the things that have been durable within, say D 2207, where I work with Frank, is we have seen these things, uh, evolve and change and be updated to actually meet current needs

Frank Ehrenfeld (17:25):

In the early days, uh, especially D 2207, even before it was D 2207, um, you know, we was, we were really just concerned about air. Now we have developed standards, um, over the, uh, duration of the age of the subcommittee, where we're now looking at the next level. Things like asbestos in bulk materials, asbestos in soil. Uh, we currently have the, uh, only standard for asbestos and soil, um, in the world that has a inter laboratory study, um, asbestos and surface dust. We have work items that we're working on, asbestos and tissue in talc and other mineral assemblages in, you know, in multiple. But it, it grew, it evolved.

JP Ervin (18:11):

I actually wanted to zero in on asbestos because that's an area that you both are experts in. And I think it's an interesting case study because that is an example of, I think, public education. And I, I think now that that substance is a household name in the US in particular, but you know, it, it was something, uh, my, my grandfather left the military after the Korean War, and he popped into working into an asbestos brake pad factory, living the American dream. Um, you know, so it's something that's really transformed in public awareness and things like that in a relatively short time, I would say. But I wanted to ask you both about that in particular, why is asbestos so significant? What attracted you both to that work in that area?

Frank Ehrenfeld (18:55):

I'm sort of the second generation in my family that has been involved with this issue. My father, uh, Frank Feld Jr. Um, spent a career working for, um, large, uh, some of the largest flooring manufacturing companies in the world, uh, in a similar position as mine. He was a laboratory director and a technical manager. Had several patents in and among other things, how to formulate asbestos into these products. It was a commodity. Everybody wanted to have asbestos in their products. A you could sell it for more, it, you could sell it because of its, uh, various properties of, of strength, durability, uh, fireproofing, insulation, et cetera. So, uh, and now here I am years later, um, I got involved, uh, after college and have in the early days of the laboratory science, uh, that is associated with asbestos testing. And I have been doing this now for, uh, over 35 years.


Um, it's amazing how it has just about come full circle here, but if you, uh, talk to anybody on the street today, I think they would say, oh, asbestos, is that still around? Isn't that a thing of the past? We don't have to worry about that anymore. 'cause you don't hear about it unless you're up at 3:00 AM uh, listening to late night tv. And here's some of the legal, um, advertisements about mesothelioma. Uh, it still is a concern in this country, in the rest of the world. Um, it, it's even more of an issue, uh, because this is not just limited to industrialized countries, it's, it's worldwide. And so we've done a good job of putting things in place, both laws and statutes and codes, uh, produce standards. Um, there's been litigations, uh, to limit what manufacturers, uh, would be, you know, putting in their product, et cetera. So the disease rate is, is falling rapidly in the United States. We've done a great job. The rest of the world is catching on and doing the same thing, but it's gonna be a long road. And, and we hope we have the tools ready for the rest of the world to be able to help, uh, control and manage this legacy issue. Tom, can you tell, tell me what legacy asbestos is?

Tom Laubenthal (21:18):

Well, legacy asbestos is the materials that have been installed in buildings over generations. So we talk about, and as a matter of fact, the EPA just this week, uh, announced a ban on a type of asbestos we call Cristal. And everybody thought, well, this is great. You know, it'll, it'll, you know, be a ban and we won't have to deal with this anymore. No, no, no, no. That has to do with current uses. What we actually maybe import or use in very limited ways in this country. The legacy issue is the big one. Think about a coal fired power plant or a paper mill. You have miles, not feet, miles of insulated pipe office buildings that may have fireproofing above ceiling tiles. You don't see it. It's not about you. It's about the maintenance people that have to go above those ceiling tiles. We have no earthly idea what the extent of this is. It's gonna be with us for a long time. 'cause young people would come through my classroom and I was on the teaching side, would ask me, well, does this career have legs? You know, like, they're asking like, long longevity with getting involved with this issue. And I said, my friends, your grandchildren might be working with asbestos. We have a long road to ever get rid of all this stuff out of buildings.

JP Ervin (22:31):

And Frank, I'm, I'm really glad you mentioned the, the global aspect. 'cause I was gonna ask that as a follow up. It's, it's a really, I, I've seen this also with some of ASTMs involvement with lead paint, uh, where that's another issue that I think there's a lot of public awareness about. And people kind of treat that one too, as something that's just gone. You know, the United States banned it decades ago, so lead paint has vanished. And what you really see with both asbestos and lead paint is that globally in a lot of cases, there's actually a ramp up in production of, of these materials because, uh, you know, especially in developing countries that are trying to catch up in a lot of ways, there's a big demand for them. So I, I was curious if you both had any thoughts about kind of global impact and the A STM. I think one of the things that's really fascinating about working here is we're, you know, a global company with a global focus. And, and I think one of the things that I, I've seen that's interesting is the application of, uh, some of the, uh, some of your committee's standards to more global settings. So I was curious if you had global thought thoughts about the global context of air quality, things like that.

Frank Ehrenfeld (23:34):

Cut me off. Uh, if I go too far on this, because, uh, the answer is, uh, in spades. Um, I have personally visited, um, old asbestos mines and asbestos laden rail tracks, uh, throughout South Africa with a large project there. They are using a STM analytical methods, uh, to help remedy and solve some of the gross contamination that emanated from the geological source mines. I visited and spent weeks in Australia and New Zealand, uh, running workshops. And, uh, they have evolved some of their analytical methods and the way the different provinces or states, whatever in Australia, uh, have mandated now analytical testing, uh, some of which they are citing A STM methods because they realize that these are valuable tools that will help them evaluate, uh, environmental and occupational conditions. Italy is doing a superb job. They have mimicked some of what we have produced. We have a an A STM conference coming up in Philadelphia in a couple weeks, as a matter of fact.


And we will have a number of countries represented there, uh, so that we can learn from each other. It's a shared, uh, type of global cooperation. Um, they have come up with some really good ideas, uh, as well. So we're working together more and more. A great example of a STM being called, uh, to assistance is, um, we received a notification from both the World Health Organization and the World Bank, uh, looking at asbestos and cement products. And we've, we've gone a long way towards that. It's not quite finished yet, but, um, we are being looked at globally as a producer of solutions, not just a producer of standards. And, um, so it, it's been great to work on the international side and help solve problems like that.

Tom Laubenthal (25:37):

And then further we can look at, um, as a comparison with health effects, as an example, let's start with asbestos. In the United States, there are two main things, uh, lung scarring we call asbestosis that is dropping off precipitously. It's a very common misconception that the public has that if they think they're exposed, they're gonna have some sort of health effect immediately. It doesn't work like that. It's usually years. And what's happened is, is that, um, that's going down because we started, you know, banning the use of asbestos in manufacturing, requiring OSHA regulations where we have to measure the air and have people wear respiratory protection and things. And A STM standards have been part of all of that all the way along. So our disease rates coming down, including mesothelioma slowly, but it is going down. Now, if, if the United States is going down, there are countries going up.

JP Ervin (26:30):

I wanna ask a question about what do you see as growth areas opportunities? I know you mentioned that A STM has really evolved with the times, and so I wanted to ask about places you see either the need for new standards or just to kind of keep expanding on what we're doing, opportunities to continue improving air quality for, uh, you know, families and workers and the rest of the people around the world.

Frank Ehrenfeld (26:56):

There's some examples that have come to the forefront in the last couple years. PFAS went from, what is that to now? It's everywhere. And again, um, if anybody wants to look into PFAS and the extent of potential contamination, um, around this country and literally the world, Google that and, and brace yourself. Um, but as I indicated before, it's not just standards, it's solutions. And A STM is quickly, uh, pulling together with their, uh, over 30,000 experts worldwide solutions on analytical methods, how to collect these samples. Um, I recall it might be in the planning stage. Um, I know there was talk of a, another symposium on PFAS, uh, that I know that the regulatory people would be, uh, attending so they can find out more and more about these A STM standards that are being created for this particular hazard. So that's one issue of something that has blossomed into a hazard that needs to be dealt with.


And A STM is right there, uh, helping, helping to create some of these solutions. Uh, over the last several years, asbestos and talc products, uh, consumer products, cosmetics, et cetera, has been, um, in the news and it is upfront and center on the asbestos issue front. And so what is a STM doing? We are pulling together our resources and our experts and just like the United States Pharmacopeia and in line with regulators that are trying to get to the bottom of this and devise solutions to evaluate, monitor, and determine concentrations in products, et cetera. So, uh, that's just two, two examples. PFAS and asbestos and talc, uh, come to mind. But, uh, we are always evolving in all manners of air quality, occupational, environmental, uh, lead mold, et cetera. A-A-S-T-M was the first group to, um, put forth and publish a peer reviewed inter laboratory study on fungal spore identification and quantification for, uh, mold and air. And, and that, uh, subcommittee D 2208 now has several standards and is working on a dozen more, uh, to help the, uh, analytical community and the building property owner, um, insurance company industry on how to evaluate, uh, that particular hazard after, whether it's a flood or a water problem in a house or a hurricane blowing through. These tools are, and we're supplying.

Tom Laubenthal (29:44):

I will mention one other thing is, uh, and I'll let Frank talk about the, the standard practices, but nanoparticles nano materials probably one of the most useful things we've come up with in the last generation. This is gonna be life changing from everything from, as you know, tennis rackets and fishing rods on out to house building. Uh, they're now working on very, very interesting uses of these things that are very lightweight and very durable. But the problem is the particles themselves are very durable and very small, and we have these nano tubes, or nano rods, if you will, uh, that are at the level of size in terms of how small they are as asbestos fibers, and they're very durable in the body, and they can move between the vascular tissue membrane. So there's been a lot of academic work on this, but a s TM has also worked on the NATO particle issue

Frank Ehrenfeld (30:36):

When these new types of potential hazards, uh, um, came to light. Everybody was like, who knows about this stuff? They all pointed at us. And so we took on nano particles as well. We are evolving just like the nature of hazards and our environment,

Tom Laubenthal (30:54):

And then part process of coming up with these standard practices, say with nanomaterials as Frank says, this is gonna help provide a solution. And one of the solutions that we're trying to avoid is another population of exposed people like we saw with asbestos that has this legacy of disease years later. So we're trying to be the solution upfront instead of the backside.

Frank Ehrenfeld (31:18):

Actually, Tom, I I just, as soon as you said, uh, you know, fishing rods and fly rods, that's it. I stopped. I'm like, okay, we, we, we, we must secure these nanoparticles,

Tom Laubenthal (31:29):


JP Ervin (31:30):

Um, well that's great. I mean, this has been a, a lot of time already and really quality discussion. Yeah. Thanks to both of you. This has been a really fascinating discussion. I think people find a lot that's very informative about it


I'm JP Ervin, and this has been standards impact. If you'd like to learn more about air quality or other innovative areas of science and technology, visit and please like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.