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Asbestos Laws and Regulations

Asbestos has been heavily regulated since its adverse health effects have become known. Understanding its danger and the regulations can save your employees' health and your company from legal penalties.

What Is Asbestos, and How Does It Harm People?

Asbestos is a natural resource found in mines across Africa, Europe and North America. Its use ranges from fire retardation in engines, clothing or buildings to fiber strengthening and even friction materials, such as brake pads or clutches. The health risks associated with asbestos come from inhaling the fibers during burning or destruction of the material. After inhaling the material, the lungs can experience scarring and inflammation, which can lead to pleural effusions (when fluid collects around the lungs) or even cancer, such as mesothelioma. A common name for asbestos-related illness is asbestosis.

History of Asbestos

The use of asbestos dates back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, who used it for embalming and tool creation.Asbestos fibers have been found in candles and clothing (for its high fire-retardant purpose) as far back as 450 B.C.It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that asbestos became a globally desired resource. In North America, it became a staple in steam engines, fire-retardant clothing and military applications. Restrictions on the use of asbestos didn't come into play until the early 1970's, when documented deaths related to its use were published.

Laws Relating to the Regulation of Asbestos in the Workplace

Current laws on the use of asbestos come under the United States Environmental Protection Agency. They mostly have to do with getting rid of old asbestos. Here's a summary; for more detail, see the EPA website.

Safe Practices for Demolition and Renovations of Structures

Under the Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), you must alert astate agency before a renovation or demolition involving asbestos can begin (§ 61.145). During the demolition, all clean air procedures must be followed.

Exposure Limits and Safe Disposal

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires you to eliminate employees' exposure to asbestos using HEPA filters. Under OSHA's protections, the employer must monitor exposure to asbestos (29 CFR 1910.1001). Safe disposal of asbestos includes placing scraps, clothing or equipment into either sealed recycling bags or waste bags that prevent any airborne particles from escaping.

The Continued Use of Asbestos

There are many restrictions on discontinued asbestos products. If an employer wishes to sell, manufacture or purchase certain asbestos-related products, the employer must notify the EPA 90 days in advance. There is an expansive list of asbestos-related products that can be reviewed if the employer is unaware of what products might fall under this regulation. (§ 721.11095)

Why Is Asbestos Safety Important?

Three major factors explain the importance of asbestos safety.
  • Employee safety. Knowing how asbestos is used and disposed of in your company can save your employees' lives.
  • Customer safety. Preventing customers from coming into contact with asbestos-related products keeps asbestos-related illness to a minimum.
  • Protection of the environment. The safe disposal of asbestos prevents contaminated air and water.

Consequences of Not Following Asbestos Rules and Regulations

These are the most offended rules regarding asbestos:
  • Violation of NESHAP
  • Violation of NESHAP During Demolition
  • Failure to Notify or Report Asbestos Misuse
  • Violation of an Emergency Order Issued by the EPA
Consequences of these regulations may include:
  • Under Statute 42 U.S.C 7413(1), if your company knowingly emits asbestos pollutants or fails to follow safe work practices regarding the handling of asbestos, penalties include five years in prison and/or fines pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3571.
  • The same penalties apply if an owner or employer knowingly causes another person or employee to violate practice standards regarding renovation or demolition of asbestos Penalties may double if subsequent convictions occur.
  • If a person knowingly fails to report asbestos abuse, the penalties may include two years in prison and/or fines pursuant to 18 U.S.C 3571. Penalties may double if subsequent convictions occur.
  • Five years in prison or fines may also result if a person knowingly violates an order from the EPA to construct or remove asbestos.Penalties may double if subsequent convictions occur.

Examples of What Not to Do

Here are a few examples of past violations and consequences regarding asbestos safety.

Boise Asbestos Abatement Company

During the renovation of a commercial building in Boise, Idaho, asbestos was not kept wet, allowing it to contaminate the air throughout the area. Fines amounted to $36,300. EPA Settles Article.

Tennessee Salvage and Demolition Company

This Tennessee company plotted to violate the Clean Air Act and avoid the cost of proper asbestos removal from one of their plants. It led to a five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $250,000 and put many employees' lives at risk. Department of Justice Article.

Truck Broker's Illegal Asbestos Dump

A New Jersey truck broker obtained a fake state permit to illegally dump 60 million pounds of asbestos at an old dairy farm that had been turned into a legitimate dumping ground. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison along with a $492,000 fine in cleanup costs. Department of Justice article.
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Christopher Turner

Christopher Turner

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