EPA Inspector General: Agency’s Asbestos Guidance ‘Potential Risk to Public Health’

For Immediate Release: June 17, 2015

Contact: Alex Formuzis, EWG Action Fund: 202.667.6982 or alex@ewg.org

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s official guidance on the demolition of crumbling buildings with asbestos is woefully outdated and must be revamped to protect public health, says the agency’s own inspector general in a new report.

The EPA’s Office of the Inspector General blasted the agency’s Alternative Asbestos Control Method, part of the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants established in 1973. Under the specified method, contractors can tear down unsafe buildings that are in danger of collapsing at any time without first removing asbestos. Contractors must make sure the asbestos materials are “adequately soaked” with water to prevent the deadly fibers from becoming airborne during demolition.

The inspector general’s office conducted experiments using the prescribed demolition method and found that “the amount of asbestos released into runoff wastewater can often exceed the legally reportable quantity for asbestos. The untreated discharge of runoff wastewater can contaminate the soil at the site or the water into which it is discharged.”

“Under the EPA’s asbestos demolition standard, demolishing buildings that are structurally unsound and in imminent danger of collapse can release enough asbestos into the environment to pose a potential risk to human health,” said the report.

Almost every week, news reports from across the country spotlight the risks that asbestos abatement poses to workers and communities. A recent analysis of federal government data by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration showed that many construction workers – and workers in a number of other professions – remain at serious risk of exposure to dangerous levels of asbestos.

“The inspector general’s report clearly shows that the EPA needs to revamp its guidance and regulations for how asbestos is handled for buildings that are near collapse,” said Alex Formuzis of Asbestos Nation, a campaign of EWG Action Fund.

“We’ve known about the dangers of asbestos for decades, and many people mistakenly think it’s been banned,” said Formuzis. “But Americans continue to be put in harm’s way from exposure to this deadly substance that is responsible for 12,000 to 15,000 deaths each year in the U.S. No other legal chemical is responsible for more deaths a year.”

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 EWG Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that is a separate sister organization of the Environmental Working Group. The mission of EWG Action Fund is to protect health and the environment by educating the public and lobbying on a wide range of environmental issues. Donations to EWG Action Fund are not tax-deductible.

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