Investigators in the state of Georgia have determined that the state agency that is responsible for regulating asbestos there doesn’t always do its job.
Specifically, individuals or businesses who aren’t using licensed inspectors/abatement professionals to identify and remove the toxic material often aren’t caught and, as such, workers (and others) are being exposed to asbestos.
The investigation began with a team from Atlanta news station 11-Alive. The reporters, after in-depth research, discovered that the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which is responsible for keeping asbestos exposure in check, rarely polices the law which states that contractors must hire licensed asbestos inspectors to identify and then safely remove (or encapsulate) the material before any demolition or renovation begins.
One of the reasons why is because state lawmakers totally defunded the department’s asbestos abatement program in 2011 in order to save money. Sadly, because of this, no infractions have been cited in nearly 7 years.
Previous to that, there were literally dozens of asbestos-related violations identified each year, with offenders fined and made to correct the problem. That simply doesn’t happen any more.
“What that means,” said Jeff Cown, head of the Land Protection Division of the Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources, “is that in 2009, due to budget redirection, we transferred the enforcement program for asbestos abatement to federal EPA.”
What it certainly doesn’t mean, he adds, is that no one is breaking the law. Instead, the federal EPA is supposed to be looking out for asbestos violations at commercial properties, but no one is policing the residential properties.
Over the past three years, in the city of Atlanta, permits were granted for the demolition or renovation of nearly 6,700 homes, the investigators noted, but no one at DNR ever checked to make sure asbestos regulations were being followed, Cown admits.
The only time they visited any of these sites was if someone lodged a complaint in regards to suspicious asbestos that may have been spotted by workers or may have been left lying around outside where neighbors could be exposed.
Georgia officials note that even when the program was in place, they never got to everyone. There are just too many projects going on at the same time and there were never enough inspectors, Cown says.
Other states have made similar remarks in regards to controlling asbestos exposure. There’s just not enough personnel and usually not enough money to get the job done.
Hence, those who suffer are people like Dan Pearson, who worked in homes in the Atlanta metro area for nearly two decades. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2015 and is hanging on by a thread.
He has filed a suit against several building materials and boiler manufacturing companies, claiming his exposure to their products caused his disease. It’s likely he’s right.
But for now, he just waits.
“There is no getting away from this disease,” Pearson told the reporters. “You’re gonna die from it. No cure at all.”.