Tallahassee — Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection
has crippled its asbestos enforcement program, according to a report released
today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The quality,
quantity and effectiveness of inspections has plummeted, leaving Floridians
vulnerable to exposure from airborne asbestos fibers that can lead to fatal
conditions, such as lung cancer and incurable asbestosis.
According to agency records obtained by PEER –
- The annual number of asbestos inspections has dropped by half since 1999;
- Inspectors are forbidden from entering work areas and are thus unable to
verify serious violations; and
- Inspectors are also forbidden from taking samples, even when friable or
disturbed asbestos is hanging right in front of them.
“Florida’s asbestos inspectors are analogous to firefighters summoned
to a burning building but told that they cannot go inside to fight the fire
or rescue the residents,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips,
a former enforcement attorney with DEP. “Unscrupulous ‘rip and skip’
operators know that inspectors cannot go into the work areas to see what is
really going on – that is, in the unlikely event that there is an inspection
Florida is now relying almost entirely on industry self-reporting to detect
asbestos violations. In addition, a series of post-hurricane emergency exemptions
has allowed untold amounts of asbestos to be placed in public dumps without
any containment to prevent exposing the public.
“Florida’s asbestos enforcement program has become a sick joke,”
Phillips concluded, noting that unlike many states, Florida does not certify
or track individual asbestos workers. As a consequence, the state has no idea
how many workers are exposed to airborne asbestos or what happens to them.
Moreover, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exercises almost no oversight
of Florida’s asbestos program despite significant federal funding. In
a letter released to PEER, EPA admitted that it does not even monitor how Florida
spends federal asbestos dollars.
Asbestos remains an extremely common construction material in Florida. Proper
asbestos removal can be expensive. As a result, contractors who use cheap but
dangerous methods can gain a large competitive edge on law-abiding competitors.
Also, reliance on illegal immigrant laborers, who are unaware of asbestos danger
or lack the legal means to protest when aware, is becoming increasingly common.