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Audit Finds Georgia’s Asbestos Program Inadequate in Inspections, Enforcement

Fri August 29, 2003 - Southeast Edition

MACON, GA (AP) A state audit has found that Georgia’s asbestos program is not doing a good enough job inspecting asbestos-removal projects, resolving complaints and catching possible violators.

Although the state has increased its enforcement of laws that protect workers from asbestos exposure, the audit found there were too few inspections of asbestos violations and no priority system for inspecting places where asbestos poses the largest threat to public health.

“The program cannot provide reasonable assurance that demolition projects and asbestos abatement projects are being conducted in the safest possible manner,” the audit, which was conducted in July, stated.

Asbestos was once a popular building material because of its resistance to heat. But when it is removed from walls and tiles or is broken up, its fibers can be released into the air. Breathing the fibers can cause cancer or lung scarring that can lead to lung and heart failure.

The program is responsible for ensuring asbestos is removed safely from buildings during demolition or renovation.

A small budget and shrinking staff have made improvements in the program difficult, said Don McCarty, who oversees the program for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Only six employees cover lead-based paint and asbestos inspections for the entire state.

But the audit report questioned how effectively the small staff was using its time. Inspectors often waste time visiting demolition or renovation sites when no work is in progress. There isn’t a uniform inspection checklist that would allow different inspectors to gather information for a site.

Complaint’s weren’t being resolved, the audit said. Two-thirds of the 121 complaints received in 2002 had not been resolved six weeks after the end of the year. Auditors noted it was unlikely there were no demolitions in 88 Georgia counties, more than half of the state.

McCarty said program managers had not recognized this and may need to impose more penalties on companies that fail to notify the state. Building owners and contractors must tell the state when they remove asbestos or demolish buildings.

“We realize that what’s important is for us to take some action,” he said, adding that the program will use the audit to improve operations and to educate building owners. ’We’re making some progress but we’re nowhere near finished.”