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Some asbestos rules suspended to speed Oregon's wildfire cleanup

The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission recently approved temporary suspension of certain regulations that affect how solid waste and asbestos-containing materials are handled. These changes come in response to recent wildfires in the state that burned over 1.2 million acres of land.

According to Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality, these temporary changes are necessary because the fires cause such a large amount of debris.  These changes, which went into effect on October 9, are intended to allow the debris to be cleaned up quicker, reducing the risk it poses to human health and the environment.

Cleanup of the area is being broken up into two main steps. The first step is to clear properties of hazardous waste. The second step is to remove ash, debris and burnt-out structures.

How have the regulations changed?

The temporary changes that have been approved by the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission include the following:

  • Property owners will not need to pay a fee to have their property cleaned up by a licensed abatement contractor
  • Most residential property owners and their asbestos abatement contractors will not need to fulfill the usual notification requirements
  • Asbestos debris can be piled in the open
  • Abatement does not need to occur in a negative-pressure enclosure
  • Mechanical equipment can be used during the cleanup process
  • Debris may be temporarily stockpiled before being taken to a landfill
  • Solid waste permit fees do not need to be paid
  • Facilities that accept burned debris do not need to submit a land use compatibility statement

Residential property owners who have four or fewer dwelling units may perform cleanup themselves on their property. However, they cannot pay anyone to help, and the asbestos-containing material must be wetted to prevent any particles from becoming airborne.

Whether the cleanup is done by professionals or property owners, all rules related to the packaging, transport and disposal of asbestos-containing materials still apply.

Why is speed necessary when cleaning up asbestos debris?

Asbestos fibers can break off damaged products, ash and debris. When this occurs, the fibers can get picked up by the wind or otherwise get dispersed in the air, where they can easily be inhaled or ingested. The fibers could also contaminate nearby soil or water.

Having relaxed asbestos cleanup rules may help ensure the hazardous debris is removed faster, which may minimize the amount of air, soil and water contamination, as well as the potential health risks to humans. However, it is important for property owners to remember that no amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe. Property owners should take all appropriate precautions to prevent dust from being released into the air. 

When inhaled or ingested, asbestos can cause severe health conditions, and any encounter with the substance should be taken seriously. Property owners may prefer to let abatement contractors handle the asbestos cleanup on their property. Those who choose to perform cleanup duties themselves may consider consulting a doctor about the best ways to monitor their health into the future.

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