Asbestos inhalation poses cancer risks to workers and consumers

The processing and use of asbestos-containing diaphragms by the chlor-alkali industry poses an unreasonable risk to the health of workers, the US Environmental Protection Agency concludes in a draft risk evaluation. The assessment, released March 30, also finds unreasonable risks to workers and consumers who process or use asbestos-containing sheet gaskets, brake blocks, aftermarket automotive brakes and linings, and other vehicle friction products and gaskets.

he EPA did not evaluate the risks of so-called legacy uses of asbestos, despite a November 2019 court order to do so. Legacy uses are when a substance is no longer used in a particular product, but those products, such as insulation and construction materials, still exist in older buildings. Experts estimate that the biggest source of exposure to asbestos for firefighters, workers, and the general public is from such legacy products made in the 1970s and earlier.

In the 2019 ruling, the court directed the EPA to consider legacy uses as well as the disposal of asbestos-containing products that are currently found in older buildings. The EPA says that it will evaluate such risks in a supplemental evaluation, but it did not specify when.

Inhalation of chrysotile, the most commonly used form of asbestos and the only form evaluated by the EPA, is associated with lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the linings of the lungs and other organs. Chrysotile is imported into the US in raw form, exclusively for the chlor-alkali industry, according to the EPA. In 2018, the US imported 750 metric tons of the raw substance, the agency says.

The chlor-alkali industry uses asbestos in semipermeable diaphragms that separate the two compartments of an electrolytic cell. The diaphragm prevents sodium hydroxide from reacting with chlorine and allows the two chemicals to be separated for further processing. Some chlor-alkali facilities use polymer ion-exchange membranes, such as Nafion membranes, as alternatives to asbestos diaphragms. Those membranes contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have their own risks to human health and the environment. The American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, claims that the EPA’s asbestos assessment overestimates exposure risks for certain chlor-alkali workers. “EPA bases its conclusion that there is an unreasonable risk of asbestos exposure to a subset of workers on invalid assumptions,” related to the use of personal protective equipment and other established safety protocols, the group says in a statement.

Asbestos can be everywhere, so create a remediation plan

Aging institutional and commercial facilities continue to present trouble for occupants, visitors, administrators, and facilities professionals. They produce a host of liabilities to everyone that enters to work, live, learn, or consume services at a given facility.

Asbestos is more than a local or regional problem, of course, and remains a thorn in the side of countless facility managers and leaders the world over.

In the early 1900s, asbestos was commonly used in insulation and fireproofing products.

Asbestos is a known carcinogen connected to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.

In the 1970s, the government enacted regulations to protect people from exposure to airborne asbestos fibers during demolition and renovation projects.Even still, asbestos is everywhere and remains a real problem.

OSHA standards 1910.1001 and 1926.1101 require awareness training for employees who work in areas of buildings with asbestos-containing materials, which is mandatory for those who perform maintenance activities in buildings constructed before 1981.

Asbestos Awareness Training should cover:

  • methods of recognizing asbestos;
  • the health impacts of asbestos exposure;
  • and instruction in recognizing damage, deterioration, and delamination of asbestos-containing building materials.

According to the EPA, regulations under the Clean Air Act mandate practices for asbestos removal be followed during demolitions and renovations of all structures, installations, and buildings.

The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act’s (AHERA) Model Accreditation Plan (MAP) requires that asbestos professionals working with asbestos-containing building materials in a school, public or commercial building be accredited under a training program at least as stringent as the EPA Model Accreditation Plan (MAP).

Also, state and local agencies may have more stringent standards than those required by the federal government.

Asbestos management should remain a priority for all facility managers. If a structure was built before 1980, there is a good chance that it was constructed with asbestos-containing materials.

Maintenance workers are at high risk for asbestos exposure in facilities that contain asbestos. Through repairs or the installation of new materials, asbestos can be disturbed, and workers typically don’t protect themselves to prevent exposure.

Any damage or deterioration of asbestos-containing materials can cause asbestos to become airborne. Exposure occurs when airborne fibers are inhaled.

If asbestos is present, design an asbestos management plan, which requires an initial assessment of all asbestos-containing materials on-site to determine their condition. Such an evaluation is performed by a licensed inspector who is qualified to analyze asbestos.

Asbestos Superfund Site

U.S. officials have removed part of a Montana asbestos cleanup site from its Superfund list in the latest sign that the 17-year cleanup is ending, though the asbestos-related health problems for thousands of people remain.
The 45-acre area is five miles north of downtown Libby and is the first of eight units of the Libby Asbestos Superfund site to be taken off the National Priorities List of sites nationwide contaminated by hazardous waste.
Asbestos from a vermiculite mine owned by W.R. Grace polluted Libby and nearby Troy until it was shuttered in 1990. Health officials estimate at least 400 people have died and another 3,000 have been sickened from exposure, and people in the area are still being diagnosed with asbestos-related disease today.
The contaminated material can cause fatal lung diseases and other health issues.
The area has been a Superfund site since 2002. The cleanup had cost $596 million as of July 2017, the most recent figure available, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Katherine Jenkins said.
Federal officials have been winding up the cleanup, and Wednesday’s announcement was a significant step toward its end.
The area being removed from the list was contaminated by a processing plant used to screen mined vermiculite that contained asbestos. The EPA has determined that “no further remediation action is needed to protect human health and environment.”
Jenkins said two other Libby Superfund site units also are in the process of being removed from the National Priorities List: the area surrounding another former processing plant and a 400-acre industrial park that used to house a lumber company.
The other units that will remain on the Superfund list include homes and businesses in Libby and Troy, rail and transportation corridors and the former W.R. Grace vermiculite mine itself.
The former mine and the surrounding parts of the Kootenai National Forest are not part of the cleanup, and there is no formal cleanup plan in place.
The cleanup of the residential and commercial properties was completed in October, but must still go through an assessment and comment period that could last a year or longer, Jenkins said.
Once the sites are taken off the Superfund list, state and local agencies will be responsible for handling new asbestos discoveries, from construction or excavation work, for example.

Home renovation businesses fined for asbestos violations


Charges of improper and unsafe handling of asbestos at a home being renovated in Seattle have resulted in $789,200 fines for two business owners and their companies, the Washington Department of Labor & Industries announced Wednesday.

The businesses and owners — James Thorpe, of Seattle-based 3917 Densmore LLC, registered by Northlake Capital & Development LLC, and Chris Walters — have each been cited for 11 willful and serious violations in four separate investigations, according to a statement.

L&I opened the inspection following a complaint from a neighbor living near the residential renovation project on Densmore Road in Lynnwood, Washington, according to the statement. Several workers were improperly removing exterior asbestos tiles from the home over a weekend. When a neighbor confronted him, Mr. Walters said he was the homeowner and promised to remove the asbestos correctly. However, two neighbors took videos that showed the workers committing several violations, according to the statement.

An investigation by L&I revealed that Mr. Walters was part of a complex corporate partnership created to renovate and flip the residence, according to the statement.

The home was initially purchased by Seattle company Northlake Capital & Development, owned by Mr. Thorpe. Northlake is a real estate property company that primarily focuses on buying old homes, renovating them and selling for a profit. After the purchase, Mr. Thorpe created 3917 Densmore LLC and established Mr. Walters, a Northlake employee, as the sole member of the new corporation, claiming that Mr. Walters was the homeowner, and that he intended to live in the home, according to the statement.

During parts of the investigation, Mr. Walters and Mr. Thorpe shifted responsibility from LLC to LLC and from person to person. Eventually, L&I cited both men and the companies they oversee for the same violations. The fines vary, primarily due to the number of workers each entity was responsible for. Mr. Thorpe and Northlake each received $214,100 in fines, and Mr. Walters and 3917 Densmore each received $180,500 in fines, according to the statement.

The violations included using uncertified workers to remove asbestos, not using a certified asbestos supervisor and not obtaining an asbestos good faith survey prior to beginning work. They were also cited for not using water and not keeping the shingles intact during removal (the workers were breaking the tiles with hammers), for lacking proper personal protective equipment for workers, for not monitoring the air during removal and for not having a written accident prevention program, according to the statement. “These two men endangered their workers and people who live nearby this project, including children,” Anne Soiza, L&I’s assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said in the statement. “On top of that, they tried to avoid responsibility by creating a legal web of confusion over who was responsible. I hope this sends a strong message that we take worker safety and public health very seriously.”