Asbestos Still Major Occupational Hazard, American Society of Safety Engineers Says
Press Release from American Society of Safety Engineers
DES PLAINES, Ill., April 30, 2003 – While negotiators for businesses, insurers, labor unions and Congressional leaders iron out an agreement aimed at creating an industry-financed national asbestos trust fund to pay several billion dollars to hundreds of thousands of people with asbestos-related illnesses, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) reminds its members that asbestos is still a significant workplace safety concern.
According to ASSE Assistant Administrator for the Environmental Practice Specialty Jeff Camplin, CSP, materials containing asbestos are still being produced in the U.S. Many “friable” asbestos products were banned in the 1970’s and the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) banned all other forms of asbestos products in 1989. An EPA ban and phase out rule prohibited the manufacture, importation, processing, and distribution of asbestos containing products in commerce. However, in 1991, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated the ban on most of the materials so that materials containing asbestos that were being produced in the U.S. at the time of the ban are now legal to produce, import and use today.
In a peer-reviewed paper titled “It’s Back-Asbestos gets a second wind,” Camplin states that the materials that may still be imported or produced with asbestos include: cement — corrugated and flat sheeting, clothing, pipeline wrap, roofing felt, vinyl floor tile, cement shingle, millboard, cement pipe, automatic transmission components, clutch facings, friction materials, disc brake pads, drum brake linings, brake blocks, gaskets, non-roofing coatings and roof coatings.
In his paper, to be published in ASSE’s Professional Safety Journal, Camplin warns fellow occupational safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professionals that asbestos is still a problem and could grow even larger with new issues and risks evolving every day. Also, asbestos was the largest single factor in the rise of tort costs in 2001 resulting in a $6 billion increase in liabilities tied to asbestos claims, said Camplin.
“Asbestos can reappear even if all asbestos has been removed from the building. It can still be an issue even if inspection reports state no asbestos is present in a building,” Camplin said. “Asbestos inspections typically have flaws that SH&E professionals need to be aware of including knowing the proper inspection scope, lack of inspector and lab qualifications, new regulatory requirements and much more.”
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that is extracted from rock and have been used for centuries for its fire resistance and because it is not easily destroyed or degraded by natural processes. Exposure to asbestos occurs when one breathes in asbestos fibers. This can cause various forms of cancer, including mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung and abdominal cavities. It can also cause asbestosis, an emphysema-like condition. Symptoms may take 20 years or more to occur. However, by following safe work practices and by reporting any damage or disturbance to asbestos containing materials, exposure can be minimized.
Asbestos is present in our environment as a naturally occurring mineral, in consumer products and building materials said Camplin. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has identified several consumer products and building materials that have been inadvertently contaminated with asbestos. Camplin also notes that even when air in the work area has been declared clear of asbestos, asbestos fibers can still remain in the air and on surface work areas. At this time, there is no federal regulation requiring surface dust to be tested for asbestos, and, the existing analytical methods used to determine asbestos contamination in surface dust continue to be problematic, Camplin noted.
To address these issues Camplin states that SH&E professionals should use due diligence requirements to identify asbestos with or without existing asbestos inspections; realize that these emerging asbestos issues pertain to existing and new construction; and, that the EPA has developed excellent guidance for testing, cleaning and clearing asbestos contaminated buildings.
Camplin, an Illinois licensed asbestos professional since 1986, states that the U.S. Geological Survey reported that 13,000 metric tons of asbestos were imported into the U.S. in 2001 and that worldwide mining of asbestos was estimated by the government at 2,050,000 metric tons in 2001, illustrating a growing risk.
Key information on asbestos can be found at
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