The following letter was written to try to establish the legitimacy of increased testing requirements for loads of construction debris going to landfills. The increased testing requirements seem to have emerged after 2010, and since then the writer has not had one sampling of sheetrock or plaster test positively for asbestos. Tests are $32 and require at least an hour of time to drop off a sample. It is likely the tests are rarely needed for sheet rock unless it is material from a “popcorn ceiling”. Most asbestos was removed from public buildings in the 1990’s. The testing requirements are one more item that increases construction costs and therefore reduces affordability.
P.O. Box 201
Ashland, Oregon 97520
29 May 2012; Revised and resubmitted July 2014
To: Steve DeFabion, Recology, Oak Street, Ashland, OR 97520 (541) 482-1471
Steve Croucher, Oregon DEQ, 221 Stewart, Medford
Mike Morris, South Mountain, Ashland, OR 97520 (541) 621-9406
Re Meeting at DEQ 8 May 2012 about disposal of used sheet rock.
Some years ago it was decided by hazard regulating bodies that there is a real or perceived problem from asbestos being in sheet rock and joint or topping compound. Thus, the regulatory climate evolved ( at least in Ashland by 2011) to where every load of used sheet rock arriving at the landfills or transfer stations must be accompanied by paper work showing that the load is free of asbestos. If the load of used sheet rock is not accompanied by adequate paperwork, the load is to be rejected.
This resulted in great frustration for contractors, “do-it-your-self” homeowners, disposal site gate keepers, and others. Often such loads are from recent construction that is being altered where there would be no possibility of an asbestos content..
Thus, a meeting regarding this issue was held on 8 May 2012 at Medford DEQ at 221 Stewart Avenue 97501 hosted by Steve Croucher of Medford DEQ. Attending were Steve DeFabion and staff from Recology/Ashland Sanitary; contractor and engineer Michael Morris of Ashland; and building renovator and property owner Brent Thompson of Ashland.
Many issues were discussed at the meeting, but the most important questions asked stemmed from the basic premise that since asbestos exposure is known to often cause asbestiosis sp? or mesothelioma. Those questions were:
- What is the rate of medical problems from asbestos related maladies today versus in 1980? In other words what is the degree of hazard to contractors, workers, homeowners, transfer station employees and the general public today compared to 20 and 30 years ago when there seemed to be many cases or asbestos related diseases? Has the awareness from the hazard which altered manufacturing practices had a positive effect on lowering the incidence of asbestos related medical problems? Naturally, this information is necessary to understand whether or not the need for current vigilance is needed.
- What percentage of sheet rock removal projects contain asbestos? What is the level of the threat? And if the inevitable painting has occurred over joint compounds and textures, how much does that reduce the potential for there to be a hazard?
- And has the decline in smoking had an affect on reducing the incidence of disease resulting from people being exposed to asbestos? Before it could naturally be assumed that asbestos exposure compounded with the detrimental effects of smoking greatly increased the probabilities of lung ailments. Where does public safety stand now as shown by medical studies?
Steve Croucher did not have the updated statistics, but he said he would find out.
(As of July 2014 there had been no contact from him on these matters.)
To the question:
4. How much asbestos is there in sheet rock? Steve Croucher said two things. One was that wall board products are still manufactured with asbestos, and the second was that 1990 was considered to be a cut off date of 1990 for asbestos to be in sheet rock or topping compound. In other words after that date there was no perceived danger. This issue needs clarification. Steve indicated that asbestos containing sheet rock taping compound or topping could still be manufactured in Canada of China, for example, and therefore in the finishing compounds there could be a small percentage of asbestos. But he also said that few if any manufacturers would risk lawsuits by selling asbestos containing products which would discourage the manufacture of any product containing asbestos. The current testing requirement is that there be a core sample which would include taping compounds and the sheet rock itself the latter of which would generally bring asbestos content below the “threshold of concern” of 1 %. This seems to indicate that although each load of demolished sheet rock had to be tested, each load tested would pass due to being below the 1% threshold. Thus, the value of testing from a public health standpoint would be considered to be nil.
There was considerable discussion about how to have loads tested and certified to be asbestos free. Questions and points arose such as the following:
5. How does the state of Oregon and other states faced with a similar issue bring about a situation where we still do not need to be testing for asbestos 20 years from now from demolition of asbestos free construction materials used since 1990 or when ever sheet rock and topping compounds became asbestos free? ( No answer as of July 2014)
6. Also, if most communities have had extensive remodeling since the years when asbestos came to be labeled a dangerous substance, why wouldn’t the prevalence of asbestos in debris loads continually decline, thus lessening the public health hazard? In other words because asbestos is no longer prevalent in materials and because a great deal of asbestos containing materials have already found their way to land fills, do we still have a potential public health hazard? ( No answer as of July 2014)
7. For DEQ to continue enforcing provisions regarding asbestos and any other harmful substance, the organization must show there is a continued hazard. We cannot just assume there is one without documentation. Where documentation of a hazard is absent, areas of concern or regulations should be eliminated and funding reduced or reallocated to areas of most pressing need. Thus, we asked, DEQ official Steve Croucher to lobby upward in his organization to get up to date information regarding this one aspect of DEQ concern, i.e. used sheet rock disposal. ( No response as of July 2014)
It would follow that today there are less materials containing asbestos being removed, and that hazards from asbestos are significantly reduced. But to know for sure current medical evidence is needed regarding the prevalence of asbestos induced disease in Oregon and elsewhere.
But assuming there is an ongoing problem with asbestos causing disease, it nevertheless is an undue burden to test each and every load of used sheet rock prior to being removed from a building site. And it seems even more burdensome to be requiring the testing in 20 years for sheet rock and topping installed after 1990 or even before. Thus, if the legislature wants to reduce one burden on the construction industry, it would act to adjust the asbestos regulatory climate to what is now appropriate given current levels of mesothelioma.
One solution might be to label throughout the back side of sheet rock with the date of manufacture to signal that future dump loads would be “safe”. (No known legislative action as of July 2014)
One other reality in the current regulatory climate is the likelihood that some contractors, home owners renovators would obtain one test and then use those test results for any load of sheet rock taken to the dump for an extended period subsequent to having the first test performed. Thus, officially they are complying, but actually they are making the requirement an unenforceable one, thus invalidating the purpose of the requirement. But who can blame scofflaws if almost all tests are negative? They would be violating the letter of the law, but not violating the intent or spirit of the law which is to not unsafely dispose of asbestos laden materials.
Can we please deal with this asbestos issue so we are not perpetuating likely unnecessary safety precautions ? This is a frustrating issue for contractors, property owners, and home owners, and it deserves attention not blind adherence to a policy that needs modification. Thank you.
cc. Mike Morris, Engineer; Steven DeFabion, Recology/Ashland Sanitary; Steve Croucher, DEQ; State Rep, Peter Buckley; State Senator, Alan Bates, Governor John Kitzhaber; Rep Dennis Richardson: U.S. Senator Merkley; Rep. Greg Walden; Center for Disease Control, Atlanta, GA