The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have announced that they will commence a 5-year, $8 million study aimed at understanding the effects of exposure to lower levels of asbestos in Libby, Montana, the town ravaged by the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine that was contaminated with the toxic mineral.
According to an Associated Press article, the study “will focus on determining whether exposure to lower levels of Libby asbestos is associated with increased risk of lung disease, cancer, chronic illnesses, autoimmune diseases or other health problems.”
The article notes that the initiative will be funded by both the EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “It will include a series of projects and studies, including one that will compare film and digital chest x-rays to determine which is best for assessing the condition of lungs,” said a spokesperson for the EPA.
Libby has greatly suffered the effects of asbestos and experts call the situation there the “worst case of industrial poisoning” in the United States. Already, more than 200 individuals have died of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases and hundreds more have been sickened by exposure to the toxic mineral. Some worked at Grace’s vermiculite mine. Others were merely community members.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) is reminding residents whose homes and other property were destroyed by storms that they should be extremely careful in handling debris because it may contain asbestos.
According to a story on WIBW-TV, KDHE has also reminded homeowners that asbestos removal and disposal should be done by a licensed contractor. However, homeowners that elect to do it themselves should remember to wear a respirator, gloves, coverall, and other protective clothing to avoid being covered with asbestos dust. They should also shower after debris removal and dispose of clothes that are covered with fibers. KDHE also issued a reminder that “damaged structures that were built before 1980 should be dampened with water under low pressure before removal, to minimize dust and fibers.”
The following items may contain asbestos:
• Ceiling and floor tiles
• Textured ceilings
• Roofing materials, including shingles and roofing felt
• Vermiculite attic insulation
• Pipe wrapping materials
• Acoustical panels
• Asbestos-cement materials, such as pipes, millboard and corrugated sheet items
The story also reminds locals that any asbestos-containing debris can only be disposed of at particular landfills licensed to accept toxic waste. KDHE can provide direction about disposal and many agency officials continue to be on the scene at locations where the storms hit hardest.
Students at the Eisenhower High School in Yakima, Wash. have learned to live with the fact that their school contains asbestos and they need to be careful not to disturb it.
A Yakima Herald-Republic article reports that some kids might not know what the dangerous mineral is called or why it should be avoided, but they know certain things are off limits so as to avoid exposure to the toxic material. For example, in the gym, students aren’t allowed to throw balls toward the ceiling; if the ball hits the ceiling it could cause asbestos fibers to meander through air.
Dwight Eisenhower High School, also affectionately known as “Ike”, was built in 1956 when asbestos use was at its peak. According to Jim Wright, the assistant principal and student services director at the school, the ceilings contain asbestos as does the adhesive used to glue down the floor tiles. Some of the pipe lining is also insulated with asbestos.
Over the years, some of the asbestos materials have aged and become friable. Some of the hazardous material has been abated and replaced with other safer materials. Other asbestos remains but is carefully watched by school maintenance staff.
“It’s kind of weird to think that asbestos is at Ike,” says 15-year-old Anne Smart, Ike’s sophomore class president. But, “Other than not hitting the balls toward the ceiling, it doesn’t really worry me.”
Smart says she feels safe, and that if asbestos at Ike was truly a big problem “we wouldn’t be allowed to come to school.”
In the meantime, certified inspectors come in every 2 years for a thorough review of the areas where asbestos is present. They look for upturned or torn tiles and damaged pipe or furnace insulation.
The school nurse is also on the lookout for any students that may exhibit respiratory problems associated with asbestos inhalation. So far, says nurse Marjorie Miles, she hasn’t spotted any major health concerns.
A new task force formed in the Pittsburgh, Pa. area is going after environmental polluters, including those who practice improper asbestos abatement.
According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, federal, state and local law enforcement and regulatory agencies have come together to form a task force that will combat violations of various environmental laws in the western Pennsylvania area.
“The Western Pennsylvania Environmental Enforcement Task Force will be committed to ensuring area businesses and individuals comply with laws regarding air and water,” U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said as she announced the formation of the unit, just a day after individuals around the country celebrated Earth Day with a renewed commitment to take care of the environment and live a more “green” lifestyle.
Specifically, Buchanan said, the task force will go after those who release pollutants into the region’s navigable waterways, offenders who release pollutants into the air, and those who practice unlawful asbestos abatement procedures. She hopes the group’s focused plan will produce “more efficient and effective investigations and prosecutions.”
The 15-member task force includes members from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the FBI, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and the state police, the Allegheny County Health Department and the Pittsburgh Public Safety Department.