Recent Investigation Suggests That Iowa’s Asbestos Inspectors May Be Overworked

Overseeing and performing 4,500 asbestos inspections on an annual basis would be a significant work load for a team of inspectors, but in the state of Iowa that load is handled by just one.

To put that number in perspective, if one inspector were to spread out his inspections evenly over the course of all 365 days, that would amount to slightly over 12 inspections per day.  Given the sensitive and dangerous nature of asbestos exposure, this high workload poses a serious risk.

A contractor raises the issue of overworking 

A complaint from a contractor prompted investigations into the workload of Iowa’s asbestos inspectors.  Tom Wuehr, Iowa’s state EPA asbestos inspector, issued a statement saying that the contracting company tasked with removing asbestos from a former Younkers building improperly and unsafely handled the process.  The company refuted the claim and was joined by other environmental safety advocates in their disapproval of Iowa’s understaffed asbestos inspection office.

Wuehr admitted to some of the criticism, adding “I suspect that we respond to most complaints,” and that “You have to also qualify the complaints just a little bit to see if they’re credible.”

In fact, Wuehr’s first inspection of the former Younkers building on February 17 did not result in a discovery of asbestos, and this apparent oversight could lend some truth to the idea that the inspectors are overworked.

Not just an Iowa Issue

The Environmental Information Association, a group that monitors issues concerning health hazards in buildings, points to a lack of oversight as a common problem nationwide.  A spokesman with the Environmental Information Association, Brent Kynoch, commented “It’s safe to say that enforcement of asbestos regulations nationwide is abysmal,” and highlights the fact that state and federal governments fail to create appropriate budgets for the magnitude of inspection staff necessary to adequately service the volume of inspections that occur.

In Iowa, the inspectors belong to two separate agencies, the Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Labor.  Although they perform similar duties, ultimately they enforce separate groups of laws and must do their own work.

The consequences of oversight

Because of the lack of inspectors in Iowa, some companies may choose to engage in unsavory business practices knowing that the chances of being the focus of an inspection are relatively slim. Lynn Packard, the statewide director of training of the Iowa Laborers Education and Training Fund, shared his concern that some companies engage in “rip and skip at night when nobody is around” and errantly conduct air-monitoring tests.

An example of this “rip and skip” that actually came to light occurred in 2011 when Bob Knapp, an Iowa developer, was involved in a conspiracy to ignore federal asbestos regulations while renovating Des Moines’ historic Equitable building.  Knapp was consequently sentenced to 41 months in prison.

The risks of improper inspections

Asbestos is a dangerous substance.  Prolonged exposure can lead to serious health conditions such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.  If you believe that you have been exposed, you may be eligible for compensation.  Contact an experienced Meso Lawyer today.

 

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