Cates Mahoney, LLC - Mass Action Lawyers

Wet Removal of Asbestos – A Sham

On November 20, 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised the asbestos NESHAP regulations. (http://www.epa.gov/region04/air/asbestos/demolish.htm) The NESHAP regulations were the guidelines that building owners must follow when demolishing a building which had asbestos containing materials (ACM). The EPA regulations classified the ACMs into separate fields based on the materials, and the likelihood that asbestos fibers could be released depending on the type of demolition used. It is a well understood fact that when asbestos containing products such as floor or ceiling tiles are crushed or pulverized, they create dust, which can contain thousands of microscopic asbestos fibers. One of the reasons asbestos was so popular during its nadir was the fact that asbestos fibers are nearly indestructible. As such, it should be no surprise that asbestos fibers would survive demolition while the other products they are embedded in would not. The EPA, recognizing this fact, sought to enforce guidelines that would require building owners to remove certain asbestos containing materials from the demolition site before demolition could occur. This would ensure that asbestos would not be released into the air and potentially cause injury to the demolition contractors, or the general public.

There has been a push in the last couple years, however, by numerous different business groups to lobby to the EPA to back away from its strict standard of removal of asbestos products before demolition. These groups advocate a new approach, called “Wet Demolition.” The “wet method,” or Alternative Asbestos Control Method, first appeared under the Bush administration as a potential cost-saving, yet effective method of ensuring that asbestos did not become airborne during demolition. The basic premise was that prior to demolition, a building would be “wetted” down with a firehose. The belief being that if the asbestos containing products are wet, then when they are crushed or pulverized, no dust will be released and no airborne contamination will occur.

The EPA actually tested this theory when demolishing regional offices in St. Louis, MO, Ft. Worth, TX, and Ft. Chaffee, AR. The result was unsurprising to those who advocated against such a sea change in the way asbestos is removed from buildings prior to demolition. Basically, the “wet method” was an abject failure in prohibiting the release of airborne asbestos fibers. The EPA has set a standard level of acceptable asbestos particulate or dust, in residential environments where people are present, when sites containing asbestos are demolished. That number is set at 5,000 asbestos structures per cubic centimeter (s/cm^3). At those sites where the EPA tested the “wet method,” the amount of measured dust was significantly above that threshold. The perimeter air monitors at Ft. Worth detected increased asbestos levels, and adjacent buildings exceeded the level of acceptable asbestos settlement. The Ft. Chaffee site also had increased asbestos release, with one pavement sample coming in at 19,400 (s/cm^3), almost 4 times the acceptable normal action level. The study also found that the water used to “wet” the building, after demolition, was highly contaminated with asbestos.

Despite what appeared to be the abject failure of the “wet method,” there remains debate on Capitol Hill about allowing this method to become a standard tool for demolition of asbestos containing buildings. A leading consumer advocacy group, Public Justice, (http://www.publicjustice.net/) has led the charge to lobby the EPA not to allow this method of removal to become standard. (http://www.publicjustice.net/Newsroom/News/Letter-to-EPA-regarding-Wet-Method-Reports.aspx) Those who represent the interests of victims stricken by asbestos related diseases (link) understand all to well the damage that can result to not only and individual, but their family, as a result. The “wet method” is simply unsafe for ensuring the needless injury of the public and the demolition crews who are responsible for the dismantling the building. The results of the attempts are starkly clear – asbestos fibers are released into the environment at a higher level than acceptable. Whether it be a nearby resident who is merely unaware, or a future resident who comes into contact with these elevated levels of asbestos due to their ease of travel through the air, using the “wet method” of removal needless increases the risk that members of the public will develop mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, or some other asbestos related disease. The reality is that the EPA already has a system in place in to ensure effective removal of asbestos such that the general public is not put at risk. Though it may be expensive, there is no reason to gamble with the health of the public in an attempt to save some money utilizing the “wet method” of asbestos removal.

To learn more and to voice your opinion against “wet removal,” you can contact your local EPA office and Congressmen. A list of EPA offices is located here. (http://www.epa.gov/regional/pdf/2010_senior_regional_contacts.pdf)   

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