New Massachusetts Report Issued on Asbestos Exposure and Public Protection Initiatives

November 26, 2019

Yesterday, Attorney General Maura Healey released the Healthy Buildings Healthy Air 2019 Asbestos Initiative Report, highlighting the State of Massachusetts’ focus on actions concerning minimizing the risks of asbestos to the public, including illegal asbestos removal and disposal.  Asbestos is a mineral fiber used in various building materials and components, including insulation, roofing and flooring, and wallboard, which can be dangerous when released into the air, particularly at large commercial or industrial facilities. Airborne asbestos can contaminate the air and soil in the vicinity.

The Initiative has focused on enforcement of Massachusetts’ clean air regulations, 310 CMR 7.15, to ensure proper demolition, removal, and disposal of asbestos-containing materials. The Initiative Report contains highlights of some of those enforcement actions, many of which resulted from initial investigations by the MA Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). MassDEP has worked with the state Department of Labor Standards (DLS) to investigate violations of regulations governing handling and disposal of asbestos during construction, demolition, and renovations in residential and commercial settings, particularly in low income communities. These enforcement actions have led to abatement work, and license forfeiture and/or additional training for contractors, many of which are unqualified to perform the work.

The report also discusses asbestos in schools, and the federal Asbestos Hazard and Emergency Response Act, which requires schools to identify and mitigate asbestos in schools. The Report provides a link to a searchable database with asbestos information for schools in Massachusetts, which was prepared in conjunction with the state DLS, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and the Association of School Superintendents, among others.

The third goal set forth in the Initiative Report concerns state efforts to seek more stringent asbestos regulation at the federal level, including under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  Massachusetts is one of several states to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this past June to require information on asbestos be provided pursuant to TSCA by the chemical industry. The state has also joined with other states asking Congress to ban the importation, distribution, manufacturing, and processing of asbestos in the U.S.

The Initiative is a reminder that exposure to asbestos poses potential public safety and employee safety hazards.  Massachusetts and the federal government share enforcement authority to minimize asbestos exposure.  While ordinarily private sector employee safety and health is within the jurisdiction of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as to asbestos, Massachusetts and OSHA have concurrent enforcement authority.

Prince Lobel has significant, cross disciplinary experience representing clients in asbestos-related issues arising under the state and federal environmental laws, including as part of construction, demolition, and removal in residential, commercial, and school settings. The firm is also well versed in OSHA and worker safety regulations on asbestos, particularly those cases straddling state and federal regulations, as Massachusetts, unlike other states, has dual jurisdiction over the regulations of asbestos in the workplace.

For more information on any of these topics, contact Julie Barry 617-456-8090 (Environmental and Land Use).

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