By Caroline Anders | December 3, 2019
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey launched an initiative called Healthy Buildings, Healthy Air in 2017, securing her place as a champion of asbestos reform. Three years later, her report on the state of asbestos across the commonwealth — and what’s being done about it — is live.
What to know about asbestos
Asbestos is a mineral fiber commonly used in building materials that has been a known carcinogen since the 1970s. Use of the substance has been legally limited over the past half century, but it can still be found in many older buildings and is still being readily imported and used in the U.S.
If inhaled, the fibers can cause life-threatening, incurable illnesses including lung cancer and mesothelioma.
An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 Americans die from asbestos exposure each year, according to one advocacy group. From 1999-2013, more than 6,000 people reportedly died of asbestos exposure in Massachusetts.
Though more than 50 countries have outlawed the use of asbestos, the U.S. has not.
Since launching the Healthy Buildings, Healthy Air initiative, the AG’s office has worked to enforce safety laws relating to asbestos and raise awareness for how dangerous the substance is, according to a press release.
• Healey’s office said it has secured more than $3.4 million in penalties for state asbestos law violations.
• Cases were resolved against 35 defendants. Violations were documented at schools, nursing homes, community centers, and more.
• A database mapping where asbestos is present in Massachusetts’s schools was developed by the AG’s office and other agencies.
• A web page specifically discussing asbestos and its risks was also set up.
• Healey is spearheading a group of states who are working to make sure the Environmental Protection Agency is properly evaluating asbestos risks.
• She also just led a multi-state lawsuit against the EPA accusing the agency of failing to require the chemical industry to provide necessary information on asbestos.
• Healey’s coalition also called on congress in July to ban asbestos.
In a release, Healey touted the progress her initiative has made.
“Massachusetts has been a leader in protecting its residents and the environment from the harms of asbestos, and our office is working every day to keep people safe,” she said in a statement. “Our Healthy Buildings, Healthy Air Initiative is achieving real benefits for workers, residents, school communities and families.”
To report violations of asbestos regulations, anyone can call the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection at 1-888-304-1133 or the Department of Labor Standards at 617-626-6960.
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