Massachusetts Construction Workers Fear Mesothelioma Amid Rise In Renovation Projects of Old Buildings

Posted on December 27, 2016

Asbestos is no longer used in construction materials, however, it was used throughout all types of buildings built prior to the mid-1980s. Asbestos can be found in roofing materials, floor tiles, caulk, joint compound, ceiling tiles, insulation and in many other products. When these older buildings are remodeled, renovated or gutted, the asbestos-containing materials are loosened, and the fibers can be released into the air, leading to dangerous health conditions. Now, with Massachusetts undergoing a building renovation boom, many construction workers fear they are at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.

According to a Dec. 20 report by, Boston’s NPR news station, the Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection reports the number of registered asbestos removal projects has exceeded all previous years with nearly 24,000 applications, up more than 50 percent in just five years. With this increase has come an increase in asbestos safety violations and health concerns among employees who fear they will develop mesothelioma from exposure to the toxic mineral.

In partnership with The Eye, WBUR conducted research into asbestos enforcement and interviewed construction workers in Massachusetts and found there are “big gaps between the mandated safety standards and what happens on the ground.” Some of the workers interviewed claimed “safety lapses are widespread” leaving workers exposed to asbestos due to inadequate and/or substandard hazmat protection. Several even reported fear of taking asbestos fibers home on their clothes leaving their family at risk of disease from second-hand exposure.

See “California Supreme Court Rules Employers Have a Duty to Protect Families From Second-Hand Asbestos Exposure” for information regarding workers taking asbestos home on clothing.

Asbestos is known to cause mesothelioma, a terminal cancer of the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart, lung cancer, and other respiratory illnesses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that there is no safe level of exposure, and, in fact, even a single exposure to asbestos can lead to disease. It can take decades for the symptoms to develop.

Asbestos abatement projects require close adherence to federal, state and local guidelines. As such, asbestos removal areas are off-limits to non-certified asbestos professionals. Unfortunately, WHUR reports there have been far too many violations during this uptick in renovations to keep the workers and general public safe from toxic release of asbestos. According to WBUR, 300 asbestos safety violations resulting in fines in Massachusetts were issued in five years ending in June 2016, the majority of them on job sites.

Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection reports that  building owners need to determine all asbestos containing materials (both non-friable and friable) that are present at the site and whether or not those materials will be impacted by the proposed work prior to conducting any renovation or demolition activity. It further notes, if a demolition/renovation or repair activity could cause damage to asbestos-containing material, then it is required that the asbestos be removed prior to the activity. All asbestos removal must be managed by a Department of Labor Standards certified asbestos abatement contractor.

Mesothelioma is a terminal cancer caused by past asbestos exposure. Close to 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with the cancer each year. Unlike many environmental toxins, asbestos has a long latency period taking decades before an asbestos-related disease is diagnosed. Workers exposed to the mineral face a life-long risk of developing mesothelioma.

To find out more about the asbestos concerns in Massachusetts see WBUR.