In May 2016, we reported on the Detroit Free Press investigative reporting on the number of Michigan contractors placing the public in danger by skirting the local, state and federal asbestos laws during renovation projects. Now, nearly two years later, Michigan lawmakers are taking action to prevent such egregious violations from happening again.
Thanks to the work by the Detroit Free Press, Republicans and Democrats are coming together to rewrite laws after the paper pointed to weak enforcement of workplace safety laws and a “lack of oversight” of contractors and their work by the City of Detroit. The city has taken on one of the largest blight removal projects in the country, according to a Feb. 20 article in the Detroit Free Press, which involves demolishing and removing thousands of abandoned homes in the city.
In a Feb. 20 press release, State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit announced the six-bill package designed to “address asbestos reporting violations and inspection requirements.” In the press release, the representative notes the combination of the Detroit Free Press reporting and an audit into the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) that found MDEQ was lacking resources to “properly monitor building demolitions in which asbestos could be released,” led to the bipartisan effort to strengthen asbestos abatement rules.
“Asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma or various forms of cancer — serious illnesses, many of which may leave victims with life-threatening conditions to live with once they are diagnosed,” said Rep. Chang. “Especially with the increased number of housing demolitions in Detroit and across our state, it is critical that we take appropriate steps to ensure asbestos abatement is done properly to protect the health of our neighbors and asbestos abatement workers.”
Asbestos is a human carcinogen that is known to cause mesothelioma, a terminal cancer, lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports, “Asbestos is a human carcinogen with no safe level of exposure.”
The bill package, comprised of House Bills 5607, 5608, 5594, 5595, 5596, and 5597, is designed to “ensure municipalities, residents and asbestos abatement workers are protected” and to properly and safely conduct inspections.
Features of the bills include:
- Background checks on asbestos abatement contractors, with restrictions for hiring for contractors with past environmental violations or crimes;
- Creation of the Asbestos Inspection Fund;
- Requires Michigan OSHA to set asbestos-related violation penalties within federal levels.
“These bills could make a difference for the people working in environments that expose them to asbestos, and I am grateful that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle appreciate this grave importance,” Rep. Chang said. “I look forward to rewriting the rules together to better protect the health of our residents, asbestos abatement workers and our environment.”
Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. The disease has an extended latency period and can strike up to 60 years after exposure to the deadly toxin. As a result, anyone exposed to asbestos is at a life-long risk of developing mesothelioma.
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