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EPA report: there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos

Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a warning, reminding government agencies that any exposure to asbestos can cause long-term health damage and harm to those who are exposed. "Asbestos is a human carcinogen with no safe level of exposure," reiterated EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr.

The warning was reportedly motivated by the use of unsafe methods of demolition currently being used by several government agencies to demolish several state and federal buildings.

In 1973, the EPA first issued standards to protect workers and nearby residents from unsafe exposure to asbestos during asbestos removal and building demolition. Those standards require that technicians who are specially trained in asbestos removal get rid of all asbestos-containing material prior to demolition. The only exception was if buildings were no longer structurally sound and therefore unsafe to enter.

In 1999, the Inspector General's report states, the EPA began to explore alternative methods of asbestos removal. Known as the Fort Worth method and the Alternative Asbestos Control Method, these involve leaving some or all of the asbestos material in place during the building's demolition. However, because the eventual building demolition carries the very likely possibility that asbestos will be released into the air, the EPA does not consider those methods safe.

The report cites footage of demolition at multiple locations, in which workers were not wearing protective equipment as dust was being released into the air. Clearly, this could cause significant damage to the health of those workers, which is why the EPA is urging government agencies to revise their demolition methods.

Source:, "No Safe Level of Exposure to Asbestos, EPA Inspector General Warns in Report," Dec. 23, 2011

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