Many older buildings contain a variety of asbestos-laden products. When these materials start to break down, their asbestos fibers can get into the air. Once that happens, they can get into your body, where they can reside for decades before causing cancers like mesothelioma.
Because of this risk, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains strict guidelines for removing asbestos from buildings. When the owners or managers of buildings fail to follow these rules, they can place residents at risk.
Federal asbestos laws apply to most public buildings
The risks of asbestos exposure recently made the news in Illinois. Several employees alleged that a Chicago-area contractor hired unlicensed workers to remove the asbestos from the municipal center in which they worked. If the complaints are true, the contractor may have run afoul of federal law.
According to federal law, building owners and managers must work with licensed professionals for any asbestos work on:
- A school
- Any other public building, excluding apartment buildings with fewer than 10 residences
The EPA does not regulate the removal of asbestos from private residences, but it does encourage homeowners to work with licensed professionals if they suspect the presence of asbestos. However, the Village Hall contained the local police department. That strongly suggests it would qualify as a public building protected by federal law.
Following the rules reduces the chance of deadly exposure
The purpose of the government’s asbestos regulation is to prevent innocent civilians from deadly asbestos exposure. At this point, there’s no amount of asbestos exposure that’s known to be safe. That means that even a single demolition job that exposes you to asbestos fibers could lead to your cancer.
Accordingly, the EPA oversees the rules for:
- Asbestos inspection and testing
- Isolating the worksite
- Transporting and disposing of all contaminated waste
- The observation and maintenance of asbestos materials in schools
In addition, to the rules overseen by the EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has its own rules to protect workers from asbestos. These overlap with the EPA’s regulations in places and also cover:
- Workplace-specific guidelines
- Warning signs
- Medical surveillance of workers
- The preservation of records related to asbestos work
These guidelines may not be perfect, but they certainly help keep workers, tenants and residents safer than they would be otherwise. When contractors fail to respect these rules and regulations, they’re gambling with lives. And they may be assuming liability for future illnesses.
The problem with determining liability
While it may be relatively easy to spot when a contractor puts you at risk, it may be harder to prove they’ve done you any damage. Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers may not develop until years or decades after the initial exposure. There’s a good chance you may not remember which contractor exposed you. Or that contractor may have declared bankruptcy. Or you may have difficulty proving that your illness owes to that contractor versus other people who may have exposed you.
This doesn’t mean you need to give up and accept the damage. An attorney who has experience with mesothelioma and asbestos-related claims may help you better understand your case. Sometimes, you may have multiple avenues to pursue. You shouldn’t have to suffer both physically and financially because of someone else’s negligence.