Archive for Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Workers likely being exposed to asbestos, experts say

May 30, 2007


An Army Reserve member removes metal from a pile of debris while helping clean storm damage in Greensburg. Most of the town of 1,400 was destroyed after an F-5 tornado hit the community May 4, 2007, and exposed vulnerabilities in the region’s emergency response system.

An Army Reserve member removes metal from a pile of debris while helping clean storm damage in Greensburg. Most of the town of 1,400 was destroyed after an F-5 tornado hit the community May 4, 2007, and exposed vulnerabilities in the region’s emergency response system.

— A Kansas asbestos expert says he is so sure that residents and volunteers who are wading through what's left of Greensburg are being exposed to the carcinogen that he's willing to wager his reputation on it.

"I don't like to assume anything ... but it's more likely yes than not" that there is asbestos in the debris, said Leland Sumptur, a Lenexa asbestos abatement manager who teaches and has consulted nationally. "I would almost stake my job on it."

But federal environmental officials say if there is asbestos in the nearly 1,000 private residences that were destroyed in a May 4 tornado, there's really nothing they can do about it if air samples don't indicate a problem.

Government regulators acknowledge that the housing debris could be contaminated with asbestos, but they haven't seen any proof.

Many of the homes in Greensburg were built before 1980, when construction materials frequently contained asbestos, which is dangerous when inhaled or ingested. Some experts say because of the danger, the government should be doing more to protect the health of those helping in the cleanup effort.

"It's a shame, because people are out there and most likely getting contaminated," Sumptur said.

Becky Ingrum Dolph, an attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency, said regulators don't have the authority under federal and state regulations to require that asbestos be removed from single-family homes.

She said the government has done everything it legally can to protect residents and volunteers.

Two weeks after the tornado destroyed 961 homes and caused major damage to 105 more and minor damage to 67 others, the EPA took eight air samples in and around Greensburg to see if asbestos fibers were in the air. The samples came up negative.

If the tests had been positive, that would have meant there was imminent danger to human health and the EPA would have been allowed to take action, Dolph said.

Without the positive samples, she said, "Legally, we don't have any authority to require the individual homeowner to do anything."

But air samples alone aren't good enough, experts said.

"For someone to suggest they did air sampling and they didn't find anything, that is so wrong to do that," said Celeste Monforton, a public health policy researcher and lecturer at George Washington University. "It gives some people a false sense of security."

As chief of the Mine Safety and Health Administration's health division, Monforton has been involved in cases dealing with asbestos and miners.

"Really the risk is going to be to the people rummaging through the debris and what they are breathing there," Monforton said. "For someone walking down the street it might not be such a problem."

But EPA officials said suspicion of contamination is not enough to warrant testing the debris.

Days after the tornado, licensed asbestos workers tested commercial buildings and schools and determined that four, including the high school, contained asbestos.

Those buildings have been cordoned off and posters have been taped to them warning of the danger.


Sigmund 11 years ago

"Government regulators acknowledge that the housing debris could be contaminated with asbestos, but they haven't seen any proof." Proof is for moderates! Let's all jump to conclusions!!!!

ASBESTOS 11 years ago

Again, people complain about me knocking KDHE. But this is precisley why the Asbestod Program exists, TO PROTECT PUBLIC HEALTH FROM ASBESTOS. Everybody knows that these western Kansas towns are older construction in the 1900-1960's, in the asbestos era. Additionally asbestos is only banned in a few instances, so seven newer construction has the potential of having asbestos in it.

The group at KDHE Clark Duffy, (A topeka City COmmissionser fast tracking City construction projects, ie conflict of interest), Scott Bangert ( one who knows nothing and cannot comprehend or apply the Asbestos regulations), and the other yahoos have ignored asbestos. Projects notified to the State of Kansas have dropped from 3,300 in the 1998 time frame to 1242 in the 2004-05 time frame. Remember every demolition of and commercial and public building has to be notified and all projects in Kansas that is going to disturb 10 sq. feet, or 25 linear ft. has to be notified.

As with the Gas station on 9th street that resulted in a fire and risk to the public, the KDHE personnel continue to ignore their duties. Their main duty is to the Public Health of thepeople of the State of Kansas.

Another program and another ball dropped. In 20-40 years there will be a calcuable amount of affected people getting ill and losing their life because civil servants DO NOT DO THEIR JOB!!!

This is what it looks like when this slow violation happens. Nobody will get sick and die right off the bat, but die and get sick they, eventually.

All because of agency arrogance and indifference.

Yeah, that is the mark of a professional.

I am calling for a full audit and accounting of KDHE!

The taxpayers deserve better for the money they are paying.

Ragingbear 11 years ago

The smooth, rich taste of Asbestos. Now with cheddar sauce.

pelliott 11 years ago

Oh yes there is asbestos, yes older homes usually have a little, some a lot, some homes and buildings are sided with it. It was a common ingrediant used or added to products for fireproofing, heat, sound. You usually can't see it but it is there, linoleum tiles, some siding, some dry wall mud, furnaces, etc have asbestos. Nothing you can do with a demolished building to prevent or reduce risk. NOW that is criminal to say that, NOT SO. There are simple and effective means to reduce a workers risk. I said reduce. The particles are usually very small in diameter, they are the most dangerous, keep the dust down, don't breath them or swallow them, don't let them get into you. A paint mask might actually increase your risk, you breath in and out heavier and those particles are smaller than the mask sheilds, so you suck them in. Hepa mask would help.

Wetting the entire structure or debris field with ammended water, which is not fancy, kind of a soapy water, to keep the dust bonded. Keep the material DAMP with ammended water, double line the trash with plastic when transporting, Keep the stuff from flying, Have some experienced asbestos workers help emmergency teams. Emmergency plans should include tips to reduce exposure to victims and cleanup crews. Set up procedures for home owners and volunteers.

We can't afford to wreck 3/4 of the houses and buildings in the country, but we can afford to reduce our risks when a tornado, fire, etc, happens. Keep it damp, cover it with plastics or other material to keep material from blowing until you can dampen it. This does not mean, water it until you have a river, damp is not wet, it is damp.

hornhunter 11 years ago

All they have to do is have a qualified Asbestos Abatement Co. come in and do a air test at several locations for a set amount of time and run the test. It's that easy, there is a good one in Wichita.

pelliott 11 years ago

sorry, but an air test in such an environment would not tell you diddly, once the dust has settled, you would need sample testing. Air testing and abatement costs of a tornado destroyed town, might cost as much a many super fund sites. You should assume there is the probability of asbestos in the material and take risk reduction steps. Doesn't mean there should be air testing, but a negative test would not answer. Didn't you read all the comments?

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