Home renovation hazards have been a frequent topic of discussion lately, both in the news and on this blog. One of the most dangerous hazards is often underappreciated: Exposure to asbestos. In homes that contain asbestos, demolition and renovation projects can release the tiny fibers into the air, where they could be inhaled by both homeowners and construction crews.
This is a problem across the country, including here in California. But currently, the debate over regulation of asbestos seems to be hottest among our neighbors to the north. Environmental regulators in Oregon recently met with an advisory panel about how to best implement a law passed last year. That law requires contractors to check for the presence of asbestos before doing any demolition on a house or residential building.
It is estimated that about 650 homes containing asbestos are demolished in Oregon each year. Between 2011 and 2014, only about one-third of demolitions in the Portland area involved pre-demolition asbestos removal. This is likely because contractors are not currently required to prove that an asbestos inspection was performed or to submit copies of that inspection. Some counties have stricter requirements, but state laws have seemingly relied largely on the honor system.
According to news sources, the panel made many common-sense recommendations, including:
- Requiring contractors to prove that they have checked for and removed asbestos before they can be issued a demolition permit
- Requiring contractors to perform inspections prior to doing renovations on homes (new bill does not require this)
- Requiring homeowners to abide by the same asbestos inspection/abatement rules as contractors when homeowners do the work themselves
Although the dangers of asbestos exposure are now widely known, regulation remains lax in many parts of the country. This is, in large part, why rates of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases have not declined nearly as much as most would expect. Hopefully, state and federal legislators will continue to tighten regulations to reduce exposure risk among workers and the general public.