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Study supports industry position on asbestos.

Exposure to asbestos is something that should be avoided but the low level of cancer risk to general building occupants does not justify arbitrary removal of intact asbestos containing materials from well maintained buildings, say the results of a long-awaited study on the effects of asbestos in public and commercial buildings.

The study does acknowledge that building service workers -- janitorial, custodial, maintenance, and renovation workers -- face greater potential risk than general building occupants because, in the course of their work, they may disturb or damage asbestos.

Released by the Health Effects Institute Asbestos Research, the study was a summary of existing knowledge of asbestos risk in public and commercial buildings. The investigation was commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to a suit by a major building service workers union that is seeking the extension of the asbestos in school regulations for public and commercial buildings. Under a court agreement, EPA is to issue its decision on what action should be taken for public and commercial buildings 45 days after receiving the study results. The agency's current policy is in-place management.

The report does stress the lack of data in certain areas such as: the representatives of the buildings in which exposure has been measured and the need for a better understanding of the bio-medical effects of the varying sizes and types of asbestos fibers. Recommendations for study were made.

The report has been called "balanced" because it contains elements that please both sides of the current argument over public and commercial buildings.

Environmental attorney Ken Block of LePatner, Block, Pawa & Rivelis, P.C. said the study's results were consistent with EPA's and the real estate industry's position. Block cited the findings of the report in a New York Law Journal article last week in which he argued against the Rapid America case decision that, he said, could be devastating for owners. The decision said the landlord was responsible for the cost of asbestos removal by a major tenant that wanted the building "safe" for subletting. Block argued that a building does not have to be asbestos free to be safe if the owner is applying a proper operations and maintenance plan.

Bill Borwegan of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which sued EPA, said they were happy about the findings of the report, which recognized that the risk of cancer for building workers is greater and special care should be taken to protect them. "The report couldn't have been more supportive of our position if we paid for it ourselves," he said.
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Title Annotation:avoid arbitrary removal of intact asbestos from well maintained buildings
Author:Fitzgerald, Therese
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Oct 2, 1991
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