EPA Awards Sizeable Grant to Help Stop Asbestos Exposure: The Governments Role in Asbestos Issues

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently gave the state of Louisiana a grant of $150,000 to help reduce the public’s exposure to asbestos in schools and other state buildings. The money will help building owners comply with statutory requirements, monitor their compliance, and be spent on public outreach efforts.

Under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, or AHERA, grants like this one are authorized to protect people who enter public buildings where asbestos may be found. The law requires local education agencies to inspect schools for asbestos and make plans to reduce it where found. The AHERA also created a program to train and accredit individuals who perform asbestos related work. Projects like those authorized and funded through AHERA are so important due to the human risk of asbestos depends on exposure. Contrary to popular belief, removal is not always the best way to reduce exposure. That is where education comes in. Improper removal of asbestos may create danger where none existed before. The EPA only requires removal when it is needed to prevent significant public exposure to asbestos material (example: during building renovation or demolition). If asbestos is discovered, the EPA actually often recommends in-place management, not removal. Management plans can be used to control the release of asbestos fibers when materials are not significantly damaged and not likely to be disturbed.

Beyond providing grants like this one to states to combat asbestos, the EPA plays a broad role in protecting the public from exposure to the toxic fibers. Several EPA Offices deal with asbestos. For example, the Office of Air and Radiation/Office of Air Quality Planning Standards, which has the mission of preserving and improving air quality in the U.S., is responsible for implementing another asbestos law, the Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, which sets guidelines for demolition practices and reporting and record keeping requirements for waste disposal. In addition, the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances regulates asbestos in school buildings and certain asbestos products and maintains the Asbestos Model Accreditation Plan which is used by states to train and accredit asbestos professionals. This Office also protects workers in states without Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Safety and Health Plans.

In 2005, the EPA released an “Asbestos Project Plan” to bring together their actions related to asbestos and provide a framework to coordinate their approach to identify, evaluate, and reduce risk to human health from asbestos exposure. The plan set forth three key areas of focus:

1. Improving asbestos science and advancing EPA understanding of asbestos toxicology, asbestos-related exposures, sample collection, and analysis.
2. Identifying and addressing ways people are exposed to asbestos and how to reduce exposure
3. Assessing and reducing risks associated with asbestos cleanup.

For more information about what the EPA is doing in our Region (6-which encompasses Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and 66 Tribal areas) you can visit the EPA’s website by clicking here. If you feel your health has been compromised from being exposed to asbestos, contact an attorney immediately to discuss your legal rights. Timing can be of the utmost importance in cases relating to asbestos and taking action quickly is essential.