Preparing for Asbestos Emergencies

Preparing for Asbestos Emergencies | Pintas & Mullins Law Firm

Natural, technological, and accidental disasters occur in the United States all too frequently. The expansive geography of our country puts us at risk for hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Our advanced technological systems, growing population centers, and advancing structure development induce many threats to public safety if they were compromised by a natural or man-made catastrophe. Because asbestos was so widely used in American industry, most buildings and pipelines constructed before 1979 contain the hazardous mineral. This immense prevalence has garnered the attention of experts on the need to consider emergency asbestos response activities. Fire departments and other emergency response agencies do not normally deal with asbestos, so the EPA and National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) developed response methods for emergencies involving asbestos.

Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm urge the public to become acquainted with these emergency guidelines. Every city and every resident in the United States is at risk for disasters that trigger asbestos fiber release. EPA has delegated the United States into ten regions, for which there are separate offices and headquarters. In its catastrophic situations documents, the EPA provides information on statues and regulations that may be applicable during such situations.

In addition to the asbestos NESHAP, there are Federal statutes that provide planning information and/or cleanup authority applicable to catastrophic emergencies involving asbestos. they include the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA); the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA); the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA); and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

The EPCRA requires routine asbestos release reporting. Information collected in this way is entered into a computer file known as the Toxic Release Inventory System (TRIS) which can be accessed to identify asbestos sources. TRIS would seem to be a useful database for either emergency response planning or identifying facilities where friable asbestos might be expected following an emergency.

The repair or replacement of an apartment building’s asbestos-insulated boiler that fails during the winter may be considered an emergency renovation, since to delay repair or replacement could expose residents of the apartment building to dangerously cold temperatures. Or, the repair of asbestos-insulated equipment that suddenly fails at a power plant could result in prolonged power outages and affect many removal operations that might be considered emergency renovations.

Notifications for emergency renovation operations that are subject to the NESHAP must be given as early as possible before the renovation begins, but no later than the next working day. The information contained in the notice for an emergency renovation is the same as that required for all notices, except for the following additional information:

  • The date and hour the emergency occurred
  • A description of the sudden, unexpected event
  • An explanation of how the event caused an unsafe condition, or would cause equipment damage of an unreasonable financial burden.

There are not exemptions from emission control procedures for emergency renovation operations.

In the aftermath of catastrophic events that result in significant structural damage to buildings, fire and buildings department’s personnel typically are called upon to identify those structures that are in imminent danger of collapse. Recent experience with hurricanes and earthquakes indicate that these personnel are often not conscious of the presence of asbestos and the hazard it represents. Nor are they aware that the NESHAP prescribes minimum work practices that must be followed even in an ordered demolition resulting from a catastrophic emergency. Because local emergency personnel may not be qualified to determine asbestos presence, an asbestos NESHAP inspector needs to be on the scene. 

During an emergency, knowing which structures in the community contain asbestos and which do not could save time, reduce risk associated with entering unsafe structures, and avoid unnecessary cost and worry. Even at the facility level, knowing what equipment, for example, is insulated with asbestos could be useful in responding to an accident involving that equipment.

Sources for obtaining such information include EPA’s surveys and compliance inspection records, OSHA air asbestos pollution regulations, TRIS toxic emissions information, and facilities named in the Superfund Act.

Asbestos exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight the importance of taking reasonable measures to identify asbestos response activities to minimize exposure. The hazards of exposure are serious and may manifest many years from time of exposure; such hazards include development of mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung and gastrointestinal cancer. If you were exposed to asbestos and developed a related disease, contact a skilled asbestos attorney immediately for a free legal consultation.