Asbestos abatement companies exist to provide the safe removal of the toxic material from buildings built before the product was banned. Prior to the mid-1980s, asbestos was used in insulation, pipes, floor and ceiling tiles, and roofing materials. But it has recently come to light that the very companies that are tasked to remove the product safely may be causing exposure to both their employees and those that they come into contact with, as well as the general public.
It has long been known that asbestos is the source of a multitude of dangerous illnesses, including mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. The natural substance, which has been utilized in a wide range of products for centuries because of its strength and its heat and flame resistance, has a tendency to break down into dust and fibers, and once these are inhaled or ingested they cause cell death and subsequent mutations that lead to disease.
As a result, the use of asbestos has been largely banned in the United States; only a few industries are able to use the product, and these are tightly regulated. Additionally, there are regulations in place for the safe removal of asbestos. Companies that remove asbestos are required to acquire licenses and permits, use special equipment, to provide training to their employees, and to dispose of the material in a specific manner.
Asbestos Abatement Companies Cutting Corners
Unfortunately, it has recently come to the attention of a number of worker safety organizations, including OSHA, that companies purporting to be asbestos abatement companies are operating without licenses, with untrained employees who are unaware of the dangers, and operating in an unsafe manner, thus exposing not only their workers but also those in the immediate area to the dangers of asbestos.
There are laws that control the way in which asbestos is removed that are established by both federal law and state law, and many of them fall under the Clean Air Act which is governed by the Environmental Protection Agency. They were specifically written because so many buildings built in the United States before the 1990s utilized asbestos. This means that whether the building is being renovated or demolished, special care needs to be exercised to remove and handle asbestos. The same is true if a building is damaged by a natural disaster.
Asbestos Removal Requires Special Training and Equipment
Companies that contract to provide asbestos removal services are supposed to be aware of the dangers and to provide a specialized service for its removal that protect the immediate environment and their own workers. Buildings are often encased to prevent the spread of asbestos dust, employees are provided with protective clothing and breathing apparatus, contained vacuums are utilized and the asbestos is placed in secure containers for safe removal.
But many contractors are skipping these important steps in order to save time and expense and increase their profits. When these violations are discovered the companies are involved are prosecuted and fined, but fears are growing that these types of incidents are on the rise and are escaping detection.
A recent example of violations of appropriate asbestos abatement regulations can be found in the case of the foreman of a Virginia company who was tasked with removing asbestos-glazed window frames from a building located on the campus of Virginia Tech. The foreman opted to violate his employer’s normal process. He instructed his employees to take the asbestos-laden materials from their special container, transport them in a vehicle that was not designed for transport of toxic materials, and take them to a public dump where they were paid for it as scrap metal.
Shoddy Asbestos Removal Risks Public Health
This act exposed the public in many areas to asbestos, potentially allowing asbestos dust to be breathed in by the employees, ingested by those on campus, en route to the public dump, and at the dump itself. The foreman’s employer discovered the violation and reported him to the campus police. He was subsequently charged by the United States Attorneys office and faces several years in jail and up to $250,000 in fines.
This example involved a single perpetrator, but all too often it is the company itself that is responsible for the violations. In fact, one of the country’s biggest asbestos abatement companies, Aria, has been charged several times with violations including utilizing inadequately trained workers for asbestos removal, providing workers with protective gear that was in disrepair, not monitoring air quality during asbestos removal, and not properly preventing the spread of asbestos through air ducts on a property that was being serviced.
Despite these violations and fines, the company has continued to be awarded multi-million dollar contracts for removal. The continued use of companies that disregard the important regulations that have been put in place means that the public continues to be exposed to asbestos, and the risk of asbestos-related illnesses to the public continues to be a problem.