Still A Potential Issue?

Although The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have regulated various aspects of asbestos for many years, some companies are still unaware or unwilling to comply with the regulations. As a result, employers are still being cited and fined for failure to adhere to these rules. On May 24, 2011, OSHA issued penalties of $1,247,400 to an Illinois company that was using unprotected and untrained workers to conduct asbestos removal. In February 2011, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries fined a company $400,000 for willful and serious worker safety violations involving the removal of asbestos from an old high school and a government building. In March of 2011, the EPA settled an enforcement action against the General Services Administration (GSA) and four of its contractors for violating the federal Clean Air Act requirements by failing to properly remove, handle and dispose of asbestos during a supposedly “green” renovation project of a post office and a court house building in Boston, Massachusetts in 2007. The EPA fined the GSA and the four contractors $100,000 for this violation.

Asbestos Background

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials as insulation, a fire-retardant, a moisture barrier, and a decorative finish. Because of its fiber strength and heat-resistant properties, asbestos has been used in a wide range of manufactured goods – mostly building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products), friction products (automobile clutch, brake and transmission parts), heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings. Although banned from sale in 1989 for posing an environmental and health hazard, asbestos can still be found in many pre-1980s structures. When asbestos-containing materials (ACM) are damaged or disturbed by repair, remodeling or demolition activities, microscopic fibers become airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause  significant health problems.

The primary exposure to asbestos is to workers in industries that mine, make or use asbestos products and to those living near these industries. Examples of this include the construction industry (particularly building demolition and renovation activities), asbestos products manufacturing (such as textiles, friction products, insulation, and other building materials), and automotive brake and clutch repair work. Exposure may also occur from working or living near deteriorating, damaged, or disturbed ACM – such as insulation, fireproofing, acoustical materials, and floor tiles.

How is Asbestos Harmful?

Inhalation of asbestos fibers is the primary cause of asbestos-related disease. These fibers are very small and sharp. If they are not trapped in the body’s defense systems and expelled through coughing or mucus secretions, they may become embedded in the lung. Inhaled asbestos is associated with three major diseases: asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

Asbestosis is a restrictive lung disease which can be fatal. Exposure to asbestos can also cause lung cancer and a cancer of the lung lining called mesothelioma. While lung cancer has a number of associated causes, there is a unique correlation between asbestosis and mesothelioma and exposure to asbestos. The combination of smoking and exposure to asbestos greatly increases the risk of developing lung cancer.

EPA’s and OSHA’s Stand

There are a number of guidelines and regulations that govern asbestos exposure. Occupational standards for limiting exposure are recommended by NIOSH and promulgated by OSHA. NIOSH guidance contains Recommended Exposure Limits (RELs) and OSHA standards set Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs). The standards also contain many other measures – such as surveillance, medical screening, analytical methods, and methods of control. OSHA regulations and the EPA Worker Protection Rule also provide guidance on day-to-day activities that may bring workers in contact with ACM. EPA National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants define acceptable practices for renovation and demolition activities that involve ACM. In addition, many states have set exposure standards and other regulations concerning asbestos.

HETI…Helping to Deal with Asbestos Issues

Employers, property managers, and building owners should be aware of federal and state requirements for the proper handling of asbestos-containing materials during routine building maintenance, planned building renovations, or prior to building demolition. Notification of the overseeing agencies, development of the required documents, and training and protection of the affected employees are steps that should be taken prior to conducting activities that may result in the release of asbestos. Failing to adhere to these regulations has resulted in severe fines and penalties from EPA, OSHA, and state regulatory agencies.

Hydro-Environmental Technologies, Inc. (HETI) can assist with any potential asbestos issues. Whether conducting a facility survey to determine the risk characterization, developing controls and other abatement measures, assessing implemented controls and programs, monitoring asbestos abatement, or verifying abatement compliance, HETI has the experience and technical expertise to assist our clients with their asbestos needs.