Property owners who want to remove asbestos are being urged to heed a lesson learned the hard way by a Massachusetts landlord last week.
The state’s Attorney General has ruled that a property owner in Springfield, Massachusetts put her tenants, and possibly their neighbors, at risk for asbestos caused diseases like mesotheliomacancer by failing to follow state regulations regarding asbestos removal. Asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a rare malignancy of the mesothelial membrane that is often fatal. It was long used in the U.S. as a building material, and can still be found in the roofs, floors, walls and siding of tens of thousands of older homes and buildings.
Asbestos often disintegrates as it ages, prompting many property owners to have it removed. Because of its recognized connection to mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other diseases, state laws regulate the removal and disposal of asbestos. These laws are designed to not only protect the workers doing the removal, but also to protect anyone who might come in contact with the removed asbestos later. Unfortunately, people at risk may not even be aware of it. For example, mesothelioma symptoms often don’t appear until 20 years or more after asbestos exposure.
Under the Massachusetts Clear Air Act, property owners are required to file a notice of asbestos removal with the state Department of Environmental Protection. The landlord not only failed to file this notice, but she allegedly paid off two of her tenants to remove asbestos siding themselves from one of her rental properties and store it. Although state law requires that asbestos removal workers be trained in safe asbestos handling and use special tools for removal, the tenants did not do either. The asbestos siding was allegedly stored in torn bags in the yard, another violation of state regulations which could pose a mesothelioma risk to even passersby.
“We allege that this defendant put her tenants at risk by having them unsafely remove asbestos from the property and failing to warn them of the dangers involved,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in a statement last week. “Our office remains committed to upholding environmental laws to prevent people from taking shortcuts that may endanger the health and safety of others.”
Property owners who wish to remove asbestos should contact certified abatement professionals. In some cases, it may be safer and more cost-effective to contain and seal the crumbling asbestos rather than remove it. Mesothelioma claims an estimated 2,500 lives in the U.S. each year. There are two major types of mesothelioma – pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma. Both are caused by exposure to asbestos.