Are They Over-Reacting?

A small amount of asbestos led to the evacuation and closure of a county government building in Wisconsin earlier this month for half a day.
The Carl Frederick Building, located in Columbia County, was erected nearly fifty years ago, when the use of asbestos-containing materials was extremely common. It is safe to say that asbestos was used extensively in the construction of the building, and that asbestos continues to be present in the walls, ceilings, floors, and other locations.

However, the amount of asbestos revealed by air tests was minimal. In addition, most asbestos-containing materials present in these buildings is not friable, or in a crumbling state; therefore, there was no real danger. Nonetheless, workers were sent home and a professional asbestos contractor was hired to remove a piece of asbestos-containing insulation from a section of pipe. Cory Wiegel, who is the Columbia County Director of Buildings and Grounds, assured the public that there was no cause for alarm.

While air tests conducted after the asbestos material was removed showed the presence of unnamed contaminants, these did not exceed the levels deemed safe by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA). Wiegel said that one was “…more likely to get hit by a car than get asbestos-related diseases.” Nonetheless, it is the policy of the county to remove all asbestos-containing materials from public buildings whenever any sort of renovation is performed. Are they over-reacting? Not according to many medical experts, including Dr. Michael Harbut and Dr. Aubrey Miller.

Both physicians, who have a great deal of experience with asbestos disease, agree that the amount of asbestos required to cause cancer is very low; Harbut, speaking at the recent Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization’s annual conference in Detroit, said that a single fiber was sufficient to create a malignancy. Statistically, Wiegel is correct: not every person who breathes asbestos will contract mesothelioma, any more than every person who smokes will develop lung cancer. However, in light of what Doctors Harbut and Miller have to say–and considering that they have far more first-hand knowledge on the subject of asbestos disease–would you want to take a chance?