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Inspector General: EPA's Unapproved Asbestos Removal Methods May Put Workers, Public at Risk

Dec. 19, 2011
In a Dec. 14 report, EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. addressed EPA's authorization of unapproved methods of asbestos removal at its own sites. Elkins called for a halt to these unapproved methods, which may violate OSHA requirements and potentially expose workers to carcinogens, and said the agency should notify any workers or residents who may have been exposed to asbestos as a result.

According to this Early Warning Report, "Use of Unapproved Asbestos Demolition Methods May Threaten Public Health," unapproved approaches asbestos removal are in use or under consideration at several EPA sites, including the Hanford Superfund Site in Washington state. One alternative method, dubbed the "wet method," entails hosing down the debris during building demolition in order to contain the asbestos. EPA, however, "has not approved or shown that these 'wet' methods are protective of human health," the report stated.

When inhaled, asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer or other serious lung diseases. The approved method of asbestos removal requires that trained specialists in protective gear remove all of the asbestos before demolition.

"The use of unapproved methods is counter to EPA regulations," Elkins wrote in the report. "The current and proposed use of unapproved methods may jeopardize the health and safety of the public."

Environmental groups and labor unions have long urged the EPA to shut down its asbestos-removal experiments. Jim Hecker, environmental enforcement project director for Public Justice, said "shoddy science and bureaucratic dysfunction" have protected the wet method for years. He expressed hope that this report "will finally put the nail in the coffin of this unapproved and dangerous method of asbestos removal."

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