After a number of incidents with asbestos, involving up to 200 city employees, changing asbestos policies is a priority for Austin, Texas. A review by the city, prompted by a report from KXAN, found nine issues with the previous program, with two other problems found after the review.
Problems with past asbestos program
• Lack of management personnel to oversee programs
• Inadequate training
• Poor oversight of testing and abatement consultants
• Failure to review procedures and contact the asbestos team,
• Unauthorized renovations by city staff
• Insufficient enforcement of guidelines
• Slow or inadequate responses to worker concerns
At Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA), maintenance workers reported the potential dangers of asbestos contained in the glue under carpeting being ripped out during renovations. Their concerns were ignored and the workers were told to continue the work. Due to this neglect, more that 120 employees were potentially exposed to asbestos.
In another incident at ABIA, a subsurface asbestos cement pipe may have exposed contractors to asbestos when they encountered it during a terminal improvement project in November of 2016.
Construction using asbestos materials was prevalent for over 50 years leading up to the 1980s. So it was not unusual to find it in the walls of Fire Station No. 24 located in southeast Austin. A contractor removed a beehive from an asbestos-containing wall at the station, thus disturbing the asbestos and exposing himself to the deadly dust.
Even the Austin municipal court building suffered possible exposure. In November of 2017, ceiling tiles were removed by city workers, which sent dust into a work area. The court was closed down as a precaution while the building was tested. Though the tests came back negative, options to move the municipal court to a different building are being considered by the city.
Eric Stockton, with the Building Services Department, apologized to all who may have been exposed and recognized the dangers of this mineral, “With asbestos exposures it’s a matter of dosage and frequency. The higher the dosage, and the higher the frequency, the higher the risk that there might be some medical problems in the future. Our program is designed to try and prevent any type of exposure, which is a really ambitious goal because the asbestos, unfortunately, it’s been used heavily in building materials throughout the decades.”
The review stated there will be expansion of the asbestos team, better procedures developed for contractor interactions, signage posted to alert employees and contractors when a building has asbestos, increased training and retraining of employees on the asbestos policy, and a review of asbestos surveys for each building.
Stockton remarked that, as a result of the review, the authority of the asbestos program will be strengthened, and workers’ responsibilities will be clarified.
Why does it matter?
Asbestos is the name of a group of minerals that are composed of microscopic fibers. Since the mid part of the 20th century, there was an awareness of the dangers presented by the mineral. While occurring naturally, it is a deadly mineral widely used in construction and other areas until the late 20th century. Exposure is overwhelmingly accepted as the cause of malignant mesothelioma.
The use of asbestos needs to stop now. With its long latency period – up to 50 years – if all new use stopped today, it would be generations before it was obliterated and the diseases caused by exposure ended. While many countries throughout the world have banned its importation and use, the United States, and much of the developing world, has not. If this is a concern to you, contact your congressperson with your opinion.