One out of every five commercial buildings in the U.S. contains friable
(easily broken) asbestos fibers, the type that poses the greatest
cancer risk to humans, says an EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency) report released two weeks ago.
The study said that of 3.6 million commercial buildings in the U.S.,
733,000 contain asbestos that could break up into inhalable fibers; of
these 733,000 buildings, 500,000 or 68% contain asbestos that is
already damaged, most of it "significantly damaged," and are therefore
likely to contain airborne asbestos.
The study looked at a statistical sample of 231 buildings and found
asbestos most common in large residential apartment buildings; 60% of
the apartment buildings tested contain asbestos.
Asbestos is a grey, powdery-fibrous material used for fire-proofing.
The fibers are so tiny they can float in the air indefinitely, once
they become airborne. Breathing asbestos fibers into the lung causes an
increased risk of lung cancer. Smokers have a greatly increased risk
from asbestos fibers.
The EPA study said the people at greatest risk in commercial buildings
are service personnel and maintenance workers, especially those in
boiler rooms (janitors, plumbers, heating technicians, etc.).
EPA plans to take no action on the study and will not recommend any new
regulations or programs in the next three years, except to beef up a
training program to increase the supply of asbestos control
professionals. EPA argues that current resources (money, staff) are
barely adequate to deal with asbestos in schools. (EPA estimates that
35,000 U.S. schools contain potentially-hazardous asbestos.) EPA argues
further that starting a program now to deal with asbestos in commercial
buildings, when professional staff are not available to do the job
right, would increase the hazard beyond its present level, making the
problem worse instead of better.
The Service Employees International Union, representing 150,000
workers, calls EPA's response "unacceptable" and will initiate a
lawsuit to require EPA to survey all commercial buildings. The union
wants the agency to help maintenance workers identify hazardous work
For further information, contact the EPA person in charge of the
asbestos control program for schools in your EPA region: Region 1:
Alison Roberts in Boston: (617) 565-3275; Region 2: Arnold Freiberger,
in Edison, NJ: (201) 321-6671; Region 3: Pauline Levin in Philadelphia:
(215) 5979859; Region 4: Jim Littell in Atlanta: (404) 347-3222; Region
5: Tony Restaino in Chicago: (312) 886-6003; Region 6: John West in
Dallas: (214) 655-7244; Region 7: Wolfgang Brandner in Kansas City, KS:
(913) 236-2838; Region 8: Dave Combs in Denver: (303) 293-1744; Region
9: JoAnn Semones in San Francisco: (415) 974-7290; Region 10: Walt
Jasper in Seattle: (206) 442-2870. For a copy of the latest report
contact the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Assistance Office
(TAO), TS-799, EPA, Washington, DC 20460; phone: (202) 554-1404.
CALIFORNIA'S TOXICS WATCHDOG; USEFUL INFORMATION EVERY MONTH
Ten times a year the mail brings us the TOXICS WATCHDOG from editor Sam
Bulova of the Toxics Coordinating Project (TCP) in Sacramento,
California and we love it. Every issue brings useful news for toxics
fighters everywhere. The Watchdog has two sections of general interest:
News Notes and Publications. Here are a few examples from the latest
issue, showing why we value the Watchdog so highly:
The EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) annual budget decreased
between 1981 and 1986, from 5.1 billion to 4.9 billion, and these
figures are not adjusted for inflation. During the same period, the
annual military budget increased from $175 billion to $260 billion and
annual payments on the national debt increased from $100 billion to
$180 billion. [NY TIMES Feb. 16, 1988.]
Mushrooms that have been treated with radioactivity are reportedly
being used in Rice-A-Roni and Mushroom Noodle Roni. The National
Coalition to Stop Food Irradiation (NCSFI) says the irradiated
mushrooms are being used under conditions that may be illegal and they
recommend phoning your protest to Quaker Oats, toll free, at (800) 621-
9525. Dennis Mosgofian, the director of NCSFI, can be reached in San
Francisco, CA, at (415) 566-2734.
A California state Public Utilities Commission Report accuses Southern
California Gas Company of ignoring health risks by buying and
distributing gas drawn from a landfill and contaminated with vinyl
chloride and other gases known to cause cancer. The utility defends
itself saying the landfill gas was diluted with natural gas before it
was piped into peoples' homes, thus diluting the hazard. [California
Public Utilities Commission's phone, in Sacramento: (916) 445-5231.]
A Citizen's Guide for Community Health Studies is available free from
the Michigan State Toxic Substance Control Commission. "So clearly
written and evenly stated that it's hard to believe that a government
agency could produce it," says the Watchdog. Outlines the pluses and
minuses of conducting a community health study, and offers a process
that provides a clear role for, and a degree of control by, the
affected community. Free from the Commission in Lansing at: (517) 373-
ASBESTOS ABATEMENT: A GUIDE TO ABATEMENT from: Asbestos Victims of
America, P.O. Box 559, Capitola, CA 95010. $10.00. [Phone: (408) 476-
THE NEW SUPERFUND: WHAT IT IS AND HOW IT WORKS "a small, handy
brochure" from EPA, dated August, 1987, describes the new parts of
Superfund. Free from the Superfund hotline: (800) 424-9346.
The TOXICS WATCHDOG is a publication of the Toxics Coordinating
Project, one of the toughest toxics coalitions in the country.
Incidentally, the Project is looking for an executive director to
replace Mike Picker, who is retiring from that position though
remaining active with the Project. Mike's shoes will be difficult
(impossible) to fill, but the Project is solid and offers an excellent
opportunity for a toxics activist to lead the way on toxics use
reduction, which is a TCP priority the next few years. Contact the
Project c/o the Coalition on Environmental and Occupational Health
Hazards, 2609 Capitol Ave., Sacramento, CA 95816; phone (916) 441-4077.
The Watchdog is $25/yr and worth it.
Descriptor terms: ca; toxics coordinating project; epa; food
irradiation; national coalition to stop food irradiation; quaker oats;
consumer protection; landfilling; cancer; carcinogens; health;
occupational safety and health; asbestos; cancer; epa; studies;
findings; particulates; lung cancer; occupational safety and health;