Asbestos is a highly regulated substance. A known carcinogen, the mineral breaks down into fibers that people can breathe into their lungs or absorb through their skin. Scientists have yet to identify a safe level of asbestos exposure, so it is understandable the government takes serious steps to prevent deadly exposure. But what happens when people don’t follow the rules?
In the case of one asbestos contractor from South Carolina, the crime led to a conviction. Then to a last-minute pardon for his violation of the Clean Air Act. The press release that accompanied the pardon said the contractor had done everything right, except to keep his license current. It also claimed he had demonstrated his remorse by giving back to his community.
What was the crime?
The contractor had allowed his license to expire before taking a job to remove asbestos from an elementary school. Per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all asbestos inspections and work require a valid license if they involve schools or other public buildings. By letting his license expire, the contractor violated these federal rules.
The EPA also oversees strict standards for asbestos removal that include:
- Wetting down and sealing off work areas
- Contain all loose asbestos
- Transporting materials
Reports suggest the contractor had followed all these guidelines. They mentioned no violation of the rules set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). If so, the contractor may have kept the school, his workers and the community safe. However, the accreditation process exists to safeguard the public. Untrained and unlicensed workers may fail to secure loose fibers when they work on buildings that contain asbestos. By doing so, they can put others at risk—namely the people who work or reside in the buildings, or those who live near the work or disposal sites.
Different standards for public buildings and private residences
The contractor’s pardon also calls attention to the different standards for public buildings and private residences. While the EPA requires asbestos testing and licensed contractors for all work on public buildings, homeowners face no federal regulations for their private homes. Some states may introduce their own rules, but many homeowners have the freedom to do their own work, even if they cannot freely dispose of their waste.
Still, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for homeowners to perform their own asbestos work. If the fibers get into their lungs, they may sit there for decades before spurring the growth of deadly cancer tumors. Accordingly, most experts recommend homeowners work with licensed professionals. Likewise, people who live in apartment buildings small enough to avoid federal regulation may want to check on the licensure for anyone performing removal or renovations.