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 Post subject: Bureaucratic murder
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2015 12:21 pm 

Joined: Fri Apr 04, 2008 10:45 am
Posts: 8222
Also known as statistical murder.

 Post subject: Re: Bureaucratic murder
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2015 7:39 pm 
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Joined: Fri Apr 04, 2008 10:48 am
Posts: 4315
Location: Broomfield, Colorado
From the linked site:

Breyer observed that such a vast expenditure would cause more deaths than it would prevent from the asbestos exposure, simply by reducing the resources available for other public amenities. Also, perversely, the very act of removing asbestos from existing structures poses greater risk from asbestos than simply leaving it where it is: During removal, long-dormant asbestos fibers are spread into the ambient air, where they expose workers and bystanders to heightened risk. When the EPA banned asbestos in 1989, it was already an old product whose risks and benefits were well understood. Nevertheless, political pressures from environmental activists pushed the EPA into making a decision that actually enhanced health risks.

There are additional perverse incentives, and an example of the law of unintended consequences. EPA asbestos regulations usually do not require asbestos removal, but rather asbestos management; as noted for most uses of asbestos it's perfectly legal to simply leave it in place; it's remarkably difficult to inhale an asbestos floor tile, for example.


OSHA regulations (not EPA) require that workers be informed of the presence of asbestos and trained not to disturb it if it is managed in place. In the above floor tile example, there's a set of OSHA regulations for floor cleaning machines, which include limits on how abrasive the scrubbing pads can be and the maximum RPM they can use.

OSHA made building owners responsible for identifying asbestos and posting asbestos warning signs, which must be prominent and in multiple languages. What's more, even though OSHA is supposed to address workers, building tenants must be warned as well; after all, an office worker might (for example) decide to replace a fluorescent light on his or her own, thereby disturbing asbestos dust that had accumulated above the fixture and thus eventually exposing workers. Finally, if the building has public areas, members of the public must be notified by signage too - after all, somebody might walk into (for example) a bank lobby and disturb asbestos floor tile, thus (again) eventually exposing workers. "Public" building is defined very liberally - anything a member of the public can get into without having to go through a locked door or a security guard. Thus, for example, most factories are "public" buildings, since a sales or delivery person can walk through the door and get at least as far as a receptionist or building directory.

So, ask yourself - have you EVER seen a sign at ANY building entrance warning of asbestos within? I think I saw one in my entire career; don't remember the context. No building owner who wants to keep customers, tenants, employees or contractors will put up these signs; instead they will remove all asbestos. Thus, even though the EPA allows asbestos to be managed in place, it very seldom happens that way because of fear of liability and public perception. And note the signage requirements are not EPA - they're OSHA.

No specific link in this chain is a demonstrably bad idea; after all, asbestos really is a carcinogen and really has killed people. The requirement to warn people about it is not unreasonable. What is surprising is the EPA's bafflement about how things worked out; I've read numerous accounts of EPA middle to upper management types expressing surprise that people remove asbestos rather than managing it in place, with the puzzled observation that removal is not required.

I'd finally note that the statement in the link that the "EPA banned asbestos in 1989" is not correct. Some asbestos uses - notably spray-on thermal insulation - were banned (well before 1989) and remain so. In 1989 EPA did issue a rule banning most asbestos uses but it was overturned by the courts in 1991. Instead, the "ban" is fear of liability; no US manufacturer will have anything to do with asbestos. It's still possible to find imported products containing asbestos.

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