Proposed Budget Would Eliminate State Asbestos Inspections

TRAVERSE CITY, MI—The proposed budget for the state of Michigan will no longer include funding earmarked for asbestos inspection.

At stake is the Department of Environmental Quality program which safeguards compliance with federal asbestos regulations. This covers inspections of buildings slated for renovation or demolition in order to ensure asbestos containment.
This cutback, just one of many aimed to reduce Governor Jennifer Granholm’s 2010 budget, is expected to save the state $250,000. If the budget passes, asbestos abatement and inspection in the state of Michigan will fall to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Critics say that the EPA’s regional office in Chicago doesn’t have the resources to enforce asbestos compliance, either.

Although the EPA conducted asbestos inspections across the nation for about a decade, starting in the mid-1980s, the agency then encouraged the states to assume responsibility. Michigan would be the only state in the midwest region to conduct its own inspections if the state budget cutbacks are approved.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Quality, Robert McCann, said earlier this week, “We don’t want to do it. There’s obviously a value in remediating asbestos in these old buildings.”

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral which is valued as an addition to industrial products for its strength, flexibility, and fireproof nature. It resists electrical conduction and is virtually indestructible. When asbestos-containing products are disturbed or destroyed, however, the fibers can become friable, meaning that they are airborne and thus easily inhaled. Asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma and asbestosis generally do not manifest until years after the initial exposure, at which point the diseases are usually incurable.

The DEQ’s Air Quality Division, which must be notified by contractors who are working with asbestos, inspected over 400 sites in 2008, evaluating compliance with federal regulations. The Clean Air Act’s National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) sets out standards for the processing, demolition, and disposal of asbestos-containing material.

Opponents of the proposed budget cutbacks fear that inspections will become lax if the state no longer conducts them. Workers who tear down or renovate buildings with asbestos-containing materials – as well as the people who work or live nearby – will be at greater risk for inhaling the deadly fibers and contracting a disease.

The Southeast Michigan Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, an environmental group, has announced its plans to lobby lawmakers to keep the state program in place.