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Aging water pipes expose U.S. workers to asbestos

No PPE for Houston workers cutting into asbestos-containing pipes

November 15, 2012

asbestos warningWhile repairing water mains in 2011, workers in Houston were not informed that the pipes they were dealing with were composed of 35 percent asbestos. They were not provided with personal protective equipment needed for handling asbestos.

And, in a move that exposed the environment as well as themselves to asbestos, they cut the pipes using a power saw and a sledge hammer – as they were instructed to do.

According to Waterworld.com, a magazine serving the water industry, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) has confirmed the details of the Houston incident, one whose ramifications go beyond Texas. Cities throughout the U.S. installed millions of miles of asbestos-cement pipes from the1960s to the 1980s and as the pipes age, they require repair.

“It is inexcusable that workers continue to be exposed to asbestos, a known human carcinogen,” said Linda Reinstein, co-founder of ADAO, an advocacy group that raises public awareness about asbestos dangers. Reinstein accused some contractors of ignoring OSHA’s asbestos handling standards and knowingly exposing their workers to asbestos.

The ADAO is calling on Congress to toughen up enforcement of the standards and to prohibit further U.S. importation of asbestos.

“Cities must ensure that asbestos-cement pipe is handled with utmost caution,” said Dr. Celeste Monforton, senior research associate at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services. Monforton said she was “appalled to hear how this known carcinogen was handled in such a frivolous manner in the City of Houston.”

The ADAO is urging Houston to identify and make public the location of all water mains containing asbestos-cement pipe; ensure that all city-contracted projects comply with the relevant OSHA standards and identify and notify all workers engaged in water main repairs of their potential exposure to asbestos and implement a program to provide long-term medical screening and care for all of them.