New laws to manage toxic dust

Not all dust is created equal. When lead-based paint or asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, these toxic materials end up in dust. So when a house is demolished, for example, uncontrolled dust could pollute neighborhood air and settle on gardens and patios, where people can be exposed. People may not even be aware of the risks to health. Our friends at the Mesothelioma & Asbestos Awareness Center note that it may be decades before people develop rarer cancers like mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos.

That’s why it’s so important to make sure dust is controlled when a house is demolished.

A reader of OEC’s newsletter who is also an environmental compliance manager and asbestos inspector shared his experience with us. He tells us that a patchwork of federal and state laws have arisen over the last four decades to protect people from asbestos and lead from demolition, covering everything from surveys to the transport and disposal of waste. But when the laws get complicated, it can lead to confusion, poor enforcement and unintended consequences.

In the 2017 legislative session, OEC testified in support of a plan to give cities greater authority to address the problem, introduced by Senator Dembrow and Rep. Keny-Guyer in Oregon legislature this year. The result is a new law that will coordinate state and city programs for testing and mitigation for asbestos as part of home demolitions, and new authority for cities to inform and protect people when a demolition creates lead dust. In a city like Portland, where there were 480 residential demolitions last year, this coordination could prevent clean-up problems that become a hazardous mess. The law intends to ensure that, before a residential demolition is underway, surveys for lead and asbestos will be available. If the hazards are present, plans are made to control exposure.

A new plan for healthier schools, too!

You might expect that firefighters and construction workers are at greater risk from asbestos exposure—but sadly, teachers are also twice as likely to die from mesothelioma as compared to the average American.

That’s why the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act was created, requiring schools to look for asbestos, inspect it every three years, and make plans to manage it. Custodial staff must also be properly trained and aware of the asbestos material.

But both Senator Dembrow and Rep. Keny-Guyer heard parents loud and clear when they said it’s not just asbestos—or lead in paint, lead in water, radon or mold—that causes concern. It’s all of these environmental hazards. That’s why they introduced a bill that will require school districts to create “Healthy and Safe School Plans” to monitor, test and reduce a whole range of toxics present in schools—and a protocol to ensure that parents stay informed. The law also designates a pool of money to ensure that this new protocol is carried out.

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The Mesothelioma & Asbestos Awareness Center applaud these bills as important steps to support cleaner air and protect public health in Oregon. But they also remind us that we all play a part in raising awareness.

“These laws help you know where to find information about hazards. From there, it’s important for people to stay up to date, take precautions and share the information. Spreading awareness can be as simple as a conversation with other members of your community, in person or online.”

Our OEC reader and asbestos inspector concludes:  “In my opinion, the effort should go to informing the public and practicing enforcement.”

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