Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

EPA's Asbestos Guidelines Pose Serious Threat to Public Health, Says Agency's Own Inspector General

Health + Wellness
EPA's Asbestos Guidelines Pose Serious Threat to Public Health, Says Agency's Own Inspector General

Once upon a time, asbestos, with its superior heat- and fire-resistant properties, was routinely used in building construction. But that was before awareness grew over the last 100 years about its connection to lung disease and several types of cancer, which can be triggered by only brief exposure to the material. Asbestos-laden materials fell from favor, as litigation ballooned into the costliest mass litigation in U.S. history and companies manufacturing asbestos productions went bankrupt in the wake of the lawsuits.

The EPA inspector general says that current methods of preventing asbestos release during demolition are inadequate.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Asbestos has now been banned in many countries, but not in the U.S. Although its use is less common now, asbestos still presents a danger, especially when the demolition of older buildings releases asbestos fibers into the air. According to the Environmental Working Group's Action Fund, asbestos still kills 12,000-15,000 people annually in the U.S.

Now the Office of the Inspector General of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report on Tuesday headlined "EPA Should Update Guidance to Address the Release of Potentially Harmful Quantities of Asbestos That Can Occur Under EPA’s Asbestos Demolition Standard." It says bluntly that the agency's guidelines for demolishing crumbling old buildings are woefully out of date and need to be revamped to protect public health and safety.

The EPA's Alternative Asbestos Control Method (AACM), established in 1973 as part of the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), allows demolition without removal of asbestos, requiring only that the asbestos-containing materials were well-soaked to prevent the fibers from becoming airborne during the demolition process. That, of course, creates runoff.

After testing that method of asbestos remediation, the inspector general's office found "The demolition of buildings that are structurally unsound and in imminent danger of collapse, and constructed with an asbestos-containing joint compound or Transite, can release significant amounts of asbestos into runoff wastewater. The amount of asbestos released into runoff wastewater can often exceed the legally reportable quantity for asbestos. The untreated discharge of runoff wastewater can contaminate the soil at the site or the water into which it is discharged. Under the EPA’s asbestos demolition standard, demolishing buildings that are structurally unsound and in imminent danger of collapse can release enough asbestos into the environment to pose a potential risk to human health."

The report made a number of recommendations including an evaluation of the potential health risk of asbestos fibers in untreated wastewater from demolitions; issuing a technical report available to the public; implementing timely actions based on the report and conducting regulatory reviews; and communicating with other EPA offices to discuss and share information.

However, the report notes that the EPA's acting assistant administrator for air and radiation disagreed with the conclusions, saying that the AACM tests were not equivalent to NESHAP demolitions. It goes on to say, "However, the agency agreed that its guidance in the area reviewed was 'dated and disparate' and proposed alternative corrective actions, which we accept. The actions include assembling a team of experienced asbestos experts to advise and assist the Office of Air and Radiation in producing an updated, consolidated guidance document which has practical application to the regulated community."

Despite the disagreement about the testing process, the report clearly points to the need for stronger action on protecting workers and the public from the dangers of asbestos in the environment.

"The inspector general’s report clearly shows that the EPA needs to revamp its guidance and regulations for how asbestos is handled for buildings that are near collapse," said Alex Formuzis of the Environmental Working Group's Asbestos Nation campaign. "We’ve known about the dangers of asbestos for decades, and many people mistakenly think it’s been banned. But Americans continue to be put in harm’s way from exposure to this deadly substance that is responsible for 12,000 to 15,000 deaths each year in the U.S. No other legal chemical is responsible for more deaths a year."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Take a Tour of the World’s Most Sustainable Office Building

Top 10 States Take the 'LEED' in Green Building

What You Need to Know About Toxic Chemicals in Your Furniture

Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier, aka the doomsday glacier, is seen here in 2014. NASA / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

Scientists have maneuvered an underwater robot beneath Antarctica's "doomsday glacier" for the first time, and the resulting data is not reassuring.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Journalists film a protest by the environmental organization BUND at the Datteln coal-fired power plant in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany on April 23, 2020. Bernd Thissen / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Lead partners of a global consortium of news outlets that aims to improve reporting on the climate emergency released a statement on Monday urging journalists everywhere to treat their coverage of the rapidly heating planet with the same same level of urgency and intensity as they have the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read More Show Less
Trending
Airborne microplastics are turning up in remote regions of the world, including the remote Altai mountains in Siberia. Kirill Kukhmar / TASS / Getty Images

Scientists consider plastic pollution one of the "most pressing environmental and social issues of the 21st century," but so far, microplastic research has mostly focused on the impact on rivers and oceans.

Read More Show Less
A laborer works at the site of a rare earth metals mine at Nancheng county, Jiangxi province, China on Oct. 7, 2010. Jie Zhao / Corbis via Getty Images

By Michel Penke

More than every second person in the world now has a cellphone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger, better, slicker models all the time. Many, however, have a bloody history.

Read More Show Less
Scientists are studying barley, the key ingredient in beer. Ridofranz / Getty Images

Researchers at UC-Riverside are investigating how barley, a key ingredient in beer, survives in such a wide variety of climates with hopes of learning what exactly makes it so resilient across climates.

Read More Show Less