The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that an estimated 1.3 million employees in construction and general industry face significant asbestos exposure on the job. Those in the construction industry face the heaviest exposure risks, particularly during the removal of asbestos during renovation or demolition. Due to the serious health risks posed by asbestos, the renovation and demolition of buildings is regulated by both the state and Federal government. However, construction workers in Georgia may be at an increased risk of developing asbestos-related diseases due to inadequate regulation.
According to 11Alive investigators, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the state’s regulatory arm for asbestos, has failed to protect the lives of some construction workers and home owners by not conducting inspections for asbestos abatement. Georgia lawmakers defunded Georgia’s Asbestos Program in 2009, and since then, the state has not conducted any inspections of asbestos abatement sites.
11Alive reports that up until that time the State cited dozens of violations each year, now there is no program in place for the state to regulate construction sites. In Atlanta alone, 6,787 demolition permits were issued in the last three years, but DNR reports no state inspectors visited the sites to validate contractors are licensed to remove asbestos. The law requires that all contractors and employees who handle asbestos be trained and certified in asbestos management. The DNR does offer training and compliance support for contractors.
“It’s an honor system at this point,” said a lawyer involved in litigation of a mesothelioma patient. “So, contractors that are well intentioned are releasing asbestos into homes where they are doing work whether they know it or not.”
The Georgia DNR website reports:
“Georgia’s Asbestos Program, located in the Land Protection Branch of the Environmental Protection Division, is responsible for protecting human health and the environment from activities that disturb asbestos.
Due to loss of state funding for Georgia’s Asbestos Program, the National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants-Asbestos Program (NESHAP-Asbestos) was transferred to U.S. EPA Region 4 on March 1, 2009. Despite the loss of state funding, the program continues to license asbestos contractors, approve asbestos supervisor training courses, and collect asbestos abatement/demolition project notifications as mandated under the Georgia Asbestos Safety Act.”
Jeff Cown, who is the head of the Land Protection Division at DNR, admitted to 11Alive that because no one has been cited, it does not mean asbestos abatement laws are not being violated.
“What that means, is that in 2009, due to budget redirection, we transferred the enforcement program for asbestos abatement to federal EPA,” he said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for oversight of commercial buildings in Georgia, but the state is supposed to maintain management of residential properties. 11Alive points out this gap in enforcement.
Mesothelioma and other respiratory diseases result when asbestos is improperly handled. The airborne asbestos fibers that are released can put residents near demolition projects at risk of contracting deadly, asbestos-related illnesses. For that reason, experienced and certified contractors should always be hired to carry-out any asbestos abatement projects.
While no longer used in new buildings in the United States, asbestos was added to a variety of products including insulation, steam pipes, furnace ducts, floor tiles and roofing shingles, in buildings and homes built prior to EPA regulations put in place in the 1970’s.
Each year close to 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma. Even small amounts of asbestos and infrequent exposure can create a risk for contracting mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.