The state of Maryland is cracking down on asbestos removal companies that put their workers and the public at risk for mesothelioma by cutting corners. State lawmakers have raised the fine from $5,000 to $25,000 for companies that do not follow government guidelines for safe handling of asbestos.
Asbestos is a toxic mineral that has been used in decades in insulation and thousands of other products. By the time its link to mesothelioma was discovered, it was already too late for many workers and consumers who had inadvertently inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers and triggered the physiological changes that would lead to mesothelioma or other asbestos related diseases.
Even second-hand exposure, such as coming into contact with asbestos-covered clothing, can raise the risk of malignant mesothelioma. For this reason, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have established strict guidelines for companies hired to rid old buildings of asbestos. Among other things, the rules call for protective clothing and respirators for workers and specific low-dust methods for removing and disposing of the asbestos to protect the public.
But according to a recent report from Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA), too many asbestos contractors in Maryland have taken risky shortcuts on asbestos abatement jobs, undercutting the bids of law-abiding companies. The result is an increased risk for mesothelioma, lung cancer, and a host of other medical problems not only among the abatement workers themselves, but also among people who live or work in or near these buildings.
The new Maryland law will take affect October 1st. Fines collected under the law will be deposited into a newly-established Asbestos Worker Protection Fund, which pays for asbestos outreach and stricter reinforcement of asbestos-related environmental laws. LHSFNA Director of Occupational Safety and Health, Scott, Schneider, says he hopes the new law signals the beginning of a trend and will spark similar laws in other states.
“Toxic Exposure”, Report from the Laborers’ Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition (MAROC), Released November, 2011.