To help protect children, families, and workers in Massachusetts from the potential for dangerous exposures to asbestos, the Attorney General’s Office (AG’s Office) has launched the “Healthy Buildings, Healthy Air” initiative. Learn more about asbestos and about the AG’s Office initiative below.
What is Asbestos?
- Asbestos is a mineral fiber that is used in a wide variety of building materials.
- Asbestos is also a known carcinogen, a cancer causing substance, responsible for between 12,000 and 15,000 deaths in the US each year.
Where is Asbestos found?
- Asbestos has a high fiber strength and heat resistance, making it a common ingredient in a variety of building materials, including insulation, roofing shingles, siding, floor tiles, wallboard, caulking, and cement products. It can also be found in heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and more.
- Most uses of asbestos are not banned. A few are banned under existing regulations.
- For a more comprehensive list of places where asbestos may be found, please visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website.
How are people exposed to Asbestos?
- If asbestos is not properly handled or maintained, microscopic asbestos fibers from loose or crumbling asbestos can be suspended in air and inhaled.
- Asbestos fibers can remain in the lungs once inhaled, which may cause long term health problems. Because of the serious health risks associated with exposure to asbestos, there is no safe exposure level.
What are the health effects of Asbestos exposure?
- Three of the major health risks associated with asbestos exposure are:
- lung cancer;
- mesothelioma (a relatively rare form of cancer that is found in the thin membranes that line of the lung, chest and the abdomen, and heart); and
- asbestosis (a serious progressive, long-term, non-cancer disease of the lungs).
- For more information about these health risks, please visit the National Cancer Institute’s website.
What do I do if there is Asbestos on my property or worksite?
- If asbestos is in good condition and fibers are not exposed, it does not need to be removed.
- If asbestos needs to be handled or disturbed, for example, as part of a renovation project, make sure to hire a certified asbestos abatement contractor. For more information, please visit Mass.gov for handling and management options.
Healthy Buildings, Healthy Air Initiative
The Healthy Buildings, Healthy Air initiative aims to protect those at greater risk of asbestos exposure, including children, the elderly, and low-income families, by both:
- Partnering with state agencies and school districts to ensure safe asbestos practices in schools; and
- Ramping up enforcement of unsafe and illegal asbestos work by landlords, property owners, and contractors.
Public and private schools have unique regulatory requirements to protect school children and school employees from asbestos exposure. In December 2015, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey’s office released a report, “Failing the Grade: Asbestos in America’s Schools,” which raised concerns about how asbestos threats are being addressed and managed in schools around the country.
To address this issue in Massachusetts, the AG’s Office has partnered with various organizations to educate schools about the dangers asbestos exposure poses to children and school employees. Working together, the AG’s Office and the organizations are:
- Reaching out to schools across the state to gather the information needed to comprehensively assess the status of asbestos in Massachusetts schools;
- Increasing awareness of schools’ responsibilities under the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), the federal law regulating asbestos in schools; and
- Working with schools to help them comply with state and federal laws.
Our partners include: The Department of Labor Standards (DLS), the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the Massachusetts Facility Administrators’ Association, the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, and the Massachusetts Association of School Building Officials.
Together, we are working to ensure the highest level of safety for our students and school employees. The AG’s Office and our partners have reached out to schools throughout the commonwealth, asking them to join us in our commitment to protect children and staff from asbestos exposure in our state’s classrooms and schools by providing us with information about asbestos in those schools. This information is now available on DLS’s GIS webpage.
Please keep in mind that schools designated as containing asbestos are not necessarily unsafe. If asbestos is in good condition, and fibers are not exposed, the asbestos generally does not need to be removed. Instead, schools that have asbestos in their buildings have a responsibility to monitor asbestos found in their building, keep it in good condition, and as necessary, hire certified abatement contractors.
For more information on our initiative, read our 2017 press release.
Enforcement of Asbestos Safety Laws
Every year, the AG’s Office’s Environmental Protection Division works with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and DLS to prosecute property owners and contractors who fail to take the precautions required by law to keep workers, residents, and the public safe from the risks of asbestos exposure.
To learn more about specific cases, please see our press releases available at Mass.gov:
- March 26, 2018 - Four Companies Settle Allegations of Illegal Asbestos Work at Salem Public Housing Facility
- December 20, 2017 - Companies Settle Allegations of Illegal Asbestos Work at Lowell and Haverhill Development Projects
- November 30, 2017 - Four Companies Settle Claims of Illegal Asbestos Work During Renovations at Greater Lowell Technical High School
- November 21, 2017 - Worcester Development Company Settles Allegations of Illegal Asbestos Work
- October 19, 2017 - Four Companies Settle Claims of Illegal Asbestos Work During Demolition at New Bedford Industrial Park
- July 25, 2017 - Wakefield Oil Tank Removal Company and Its President Sued for Hazardous Waste Violations and Illegal Asbestos Removal
If you have information about potential violations of asbestos laws, you should report them to MassDEP or the AG’s Office at the following numbers:
MassDEP: 617-292-5500 (or call your local regional office listed below).
- MassDEP Central Regional Office: 508-792-7650
- MassDEP Northeast Regional Office: 978-694-3200
- MassDEP Southeast Regional Office: 508-946-2700
- MassDEP Western Regional Office: 413-784-1100