Report: Majority of Federal Buildings Miss Asbestos Inspections

Asbestos Exposure & Bans

The Government Accountability Office reports 66.7% of all U.S. federal buildings miss their routine 5-year asbestos inspections and 52% haven’t been inspected in more than 10 years. The General Services Administration requires all federal buildings built before 1998 be inspected for asbestos at least once every 5 years. 

GSA blames a lack of funding, staff shortages, database limitations and incomplete records for the lack of recent asbestos checks. The agency is requesting $500,000 for the fiscal year 2024 to fund inspections. It’s also considering changing the inspection rule from every 5 years to every 10 years. 

The GAO recommends the completion of asbestos inspections and updating of policies to resolve the backlog. The GSA says it’s creating a plan of action, but also expressed uncertainty about whether or not asbestos contamination is a problem in federal offices. Because of the growth of hybrid work, Congress is asking the GSA to sell buildings no longer in use.

 The GAO report reads in part: “In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal agencies, including GSA, expect to decrease the amount of leased and owned space across the federal portfolio because of personnel who will continue to telework. This may result in a greater need to dispose of unneeded federal real estate, making it even more important to find ways to efficiently dispose of federal real property.”

Asbestos and Aging Buildings

The GAO’s report notes aging buildings may be hard to sell if regular inspections for asbestos aren’t taking place. The agency points to past examples of asbestos lowering the value of government property for sale. 

The GSA could be held legally liable for cleanup costs before selling the buildings. For the fiscal year of 2023, the GSA estimated $1.6 billion of its total $2 billion of unfunded environmental liabilities were asbestos-related. In total there are more than 8,000 properties in GSA’s care, including border inspection stations, courthouses, office buildings and post offices.

The average federal building is about 50 years old. Older structures built before the 1980s often contain asbestos products and materials. Asbestos was frequently added to construction materials such as insulation, floor tiles and cement sheets and to make them stronger.

Asbestos Dangers

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. If asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, asbestos can become trapped in the body, causing  asbestos-related diseases. Asbestos is the primary cause of malignant mesothelioma.

An aggressive cancer, there isn’t a mesothelioma cure yet. While the prognosis for mesothelioma is typically poor, recent advances have improved survival. Some patients have lived more than 10 years after their initial diagnosis.

The presence of asbestos in products has led to thousands of mesothelioma lawsuits. People exposed to asbestos have also filed claims with asbestos trust funds. Veterans exposed to asbestos during their time in the military can also file claims for VA benefits.

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