In Northampton County, located in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, County Controller Stephen Barron has claimed that county officials have neglected air quality complaints about possible asbestos exposure in county buildings. However, county councilman Ron Angle has accused Baron of grandstanding and referred to him as, “the most dangerous elected official in the Lehigh Valley.”
Before asbestos became more regulated in the late 1980s, it was widely used in the insulation of many older buildings. Because asbestos is friable, over time the insulation can release fibers into the air, potentially causing malignant diseases such as malignant mesothelioma if inhaled.
Barron has stated that concerned employees have previously brought these claims to the attention of the county with no resulting action. As a result, he has asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate any possible asbestos exposure in the buildings.
Barron further states on his reasoning behind bringing this issue to light, “I only got involved because (employees) thought the administration was turning a deaf ear.” Because the EPA and many other international health organizations list asbestos as a human carcinogen, finding any trace of the fiber above legal limits is a serious offense. If the EPA were to find asbestos fibers in the air, the county would likely receive fines as a result.
The EPA maximum allowable content for asbestos in a product may not exceed one percent. Also, air levels may not exceed 0.1 fibers/ml. The County Executive, John Stoffa, has stated that it has already previously been addressed, “It is something we addressed through our safety committee We have taken preventative measures.”
However, he has also said that employee physicals are not necessary, “Why would we do that? Who do we start with and who do we stop with? There’s the assumption that we’ve done something wrong.” Doctors and physicians have continually stated the most effective way to treat mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases is through early diagnosis. Patients are often unaware of the potentially life-threatening substance they were exposed to until many years later.