Massachusetts regulators recently fined a local non-profit organization more than $31,000 for burning demolition debris that contained asbestos in violation of state air pollution and solid waste regulations.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) announced that the Barton Center for Diabetes Education in Charlton will pay $16,230 in assessed penalties, plus $14,960 for fire training equipment for the town’s fire department. The center also agreed to have all of its buildings inspected for asbestos.
“The Barton Center took immediate steps to correct the violations, is now aware of its responsibilities and has trained personnel so that this will not happen in the future,” said Lee Dillard Adams, director of MassDEP’s Central Regional Office in Worcester, in a statement.
The Barton Center has operated for many years with a mission “to improve the lives of children with insulin-dependent diabetes through education, recreation, and support programs which inspire and empower,” according to its website.
Its programs include a camp for boys that first opened in the 1940s, and it was on that property that a Barton employee was discovered burning demolition debris in 2012. MassDEP was called in and found that the debris being burned contained asbestos.
Asbestos-containing materials were often used in buildings constructed before 1980. Back then, asbestos was valued for its durability and resistance to heat and fire. We now know that inhaled asbestos fibers can get lodged in the lungs and cause scarring and inflammation. This can lead to serious diseases such as mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer.
Federal and state laws are strict when it comes to the removal and disposal of waste that contains asbestos. Burning it is especially dangerous, since the other materials will disintegrate but asbestos fibers will not. During a fire the fibers may become airborne, where they can be inhaled by those nearby.
Perhaps the best proof of the danger of asbestos in a fire comes from a recent study by the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH). Researchers found that firefighters had higher rates of cancer than the U.S. population, and were twice as likely to develop mesothelioma. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma.