Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Handling Vermiculite Insulation for Building Inspections and Air Monitoring



The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent decision to declare a public health emergency at the Libby asbestos site in Montana has brought vermiculite insulation back in front of people’s minds. EPA’s announcement did not mention what to do if you have this type of insulation. Remember there are some major issues with this type of insulation. First it seems the vermiculite can actually hide the tremolite asbestos from detection, leading to false results. When individuals disturb the vermiculite insulation it can release tremolite asbestos at significant levels into the air.

Because of these technical issues EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) both recommend that if you find vermiculite insulation that you not test it for asbestos. Instead they recommend you assume the vermiculite insulation is from Libby and assume it contains asbestos. The Libby mine was the source for over 70% of the vermiculite sold in the United States from 1919 to 1990. EPA and ATSDR feel that the technical issues involving vermiculite sampling can complicate testing for the presence of asbestos fibers and interpreting the risk from exposure. This is a significant statement and interesting that it has not been published more.

Based on this, as an asbestos inspector, environmental inspector, home inspector, and/or air quality consultant, you must evaluate vermiculite insulation as containing asbestos (without sampling). In addition, you must inform the owner that sampling the material will not provide a definitive answer. EPA and ATSDR both recommend that professional asbestos abatement contractors handle any disturbance of the vermiculite insulation. The best practice for air monitoring and analysis of these projects, for the protection of the public, is Transmission Electron Microscopy. As these issues are not well known, even in the asbestos industry, it is important for owners to be aware of this potential problem and take the precautions necessary.

Public Health Emergency Declared in Libby, Montana



As with everyone else who is aware of this tragedy we applaud the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision on June 17, 2009 to declare that a public health emergency exits at the Libby asbestos site (vermiculite mine contaminated with tremolite asbestos) in northwest Montana. The New York Times, Newsday and other newspapers covered this press release and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization issued their own release covering this issue. The documentary film “Dust to Dust” directed by Michael Brown told the Libby story (we have watched this film in some of our classes). As the press release indicates, this announcement, which is long overdue, will provide funds for the continued clean-up of the contaminated areas in the towns of Libby and Troy. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services will provide grant money to provide medical care for the area residents impacted by the contamination.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Different Regulations for Different States on Asbestos-Cement Pipe


One of our regular clients, during a class, provided us with a copy of the article linked to the title above. The title of the article is “End of the Line” by Kent Von Aspern, P.E. Public Works magazine published this article in March 2009. One of the first things we need to note about the article is that the author works in Northern California and we should not take this article as the requirements for every state. Each state may and can handle asbestos in their state differently. For example, the New York State Department of Labor under Industrial Code Rule 56 regulates asbestos cement or transite pipe. Under this regulation, only licensed companies (even a sewage or water district or Department of Public Works are required to be licensed to handle asbestos) can handle any quantity of asbestos containing material (ACM). In addition, only workers/employees certified by NYSDOL as operations and maintenance, handlers, or supervisors can handle ACM. The size projects handled by the workers would dictate which certificate the workers are required to have. NYSDOL does not stop at just licensing and certification requirements it also dictates the work procedures. Under the Guidance Document version 2.0, question 237 indicates the work procedures for cement/transite pipe. It indicates that abandoned asbestos containing cement/transite pipe cannot remain in the trench. According to ICR56 buried asbestos cement or transite pipe must be removed and disposed of in accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPS) regulation as Category II nonfriable asbestos containing material and under New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (NYS DEC) asbestos waste regulations. Remember when you read information on the internet or in national magazines or industry publications it is difficult for one author to know all the requirements in each state. Many times the author is writing specifically of experiences they have in their state. That experience many times may not apply in a different state or states.

Friday, June 12, 2009

W. R. Grace acquitted in Libby, MT Asbestos Case


New York Times reported on May 9, 2009 the acquittal of W. R. Grace and three of its former executives on all charges that they had knowingly contaminated Libby, Montana a small mining town, with asbestos, and then conspired to cover up the deed.
In some of our classes we have watched the documentary film “Dust to Dust” directed by Michael Brown. The film told the story of the town’s experience with exposure to tremolite asbestos that contaminated the vermiculite mine which many of the town’s people worked at. The film documented the effects on the town, hundreds of miners, their family members, and townsfolk have died, and at least 1,200 have been sickened from exposure to the asbestos-containing ore. These health effects also threaten workers, their families, and residents everywhere the ore was shipped and people living in millions of homes nationwide where it was used as insulation. The W. R. Grace trial mentioned above was the result of the government’s investigation into the Libby, Montana situation.
Based on the New York Times article, it appears the government’s case was very difficult to prove and that several errors by federal prosecutors, during the trial, made it even more difficult. It really is a shame that the people of Libby, Montana will suffer from the effects of asbestos exposure and many of them will die from this exposure for many years to come, while it seems prosecutors are unable or incapable of providing justice for them.