Asbestos Project Plan

The Asbestos Project Plan, a 2005 EPA report, is a compilation of the agency’s recommendations and actions relating to the hazards of asbestos.  According to the report, the EPA has three main focuses when it comes to asbestos in the U.S.: 1)    Improving the state of the science for asbestos 2)    Identifying and addressing exposure and risk reduction opportunities associated with asbestos in products, schools and buildings 3)    Characterizing and reducing asbestos exposures through assessment and cleanup.

Improving Asbestos Science

In order to increase the knowledge base of the characteristics and hazards of asbestos, the EPA partners with many other federal agencies devoted to health (Centers for Disease Control), occupational safety (Occupational Health and Safety, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), geology (U.S. Geological Survey), and more.  An Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) report is constantly being updated as researchers make new advances in studying both the cancerous and non-cancerous effects of exposure to the mineral. In addition to current events, the EPA also studies historical asbestos exposure patterns in order to better understand how and when asbestos causes disease.  The EPA is always looking to improve sampling techniques to get a more accurate picture of the risk presented by certain locations, as well as new and better methods for removing asbestos and decontaminating those locations.

Identifying and Reducing Exposure

Though asbestos is no longer mined or produced in the U.S., because of its extensive use in the past, many people may still be at risk from older asbestos-containing products.  A large part of identifying and reducing risk involves educating the public on the specifics of asbestos exposure.  Some of the activities the EPA has created to this end are the production of educational materials (such as pamphlets on asbestos-contaminated vermiculite insulation), training of asbestos abatement professionals and inspectors, and updating of the Homeowner’s Guide. However, educational objectives aren’t merely targeted at homeowners.  The EPA has also partnered with the National Parent-Teacher Association and the National Education Association, among others, to determine and allay the risk of exposure in our nation’s schools.  Additionally, the EPA solicits tips or complaints relating to possible sources of exposure in schools and other public buildings, addressing them under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act.

Cleaning Up Sources of Exposure

Once sources of risk are identified, the EPA must evaluate them and begin cleanup procedures to remove the risk.  Perhaps the largest asbestos cleanup site at present is located in Libby, Montana, at a former vermiculite mine that was heavily contaminated with asbestos and affected the health of the entire town.  The cleanup is ongoing, with more than 400 homes already addressed. However, Libby is not the only site that requires attention.  Lower Manhattan was subjected to a toxic cloud of asbestos and many other airborne contaminants after the destruction on September 11, 2001. Efforts to identify and remove sources of asbestos are ongoing.  More recently, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina may have also put the local residents at risk, both from the destruction caused by the storm and the reconstruction efforts afterward.

Recommendations

In addition to these three focal points, the Global Environment and Technology Foundation has made a series of short and long-term recommendations for future actions by the EPA.  Chief among them is to formally ban asbestos, a measure that was passed in 1989 but quietly overturned two years later.  Other recommendations include a national mesothelioma registry, encouraging voluntary compliance with asbestos regulations, and continued reduction of contaminated products.  With these measures, the EPA hopes to keep the nation safe from the health hazards posed by this dangerous material. Reference:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (November 2005) “Asbestos Project Plan.”  Retrieved March 21, 2011 from the EPA.