First, there's employers' refusal to comply with safe practices and federal regulations when demolishing asbestos containing building in the hurricane damaged gulf states:
Workers descend on the area with heavy equipment like backhoes and debris trucks. They tear the buildings apart and load debris, creating clouds of pulverized construction materials they breathe in and that scatters with the wind throughout the neighborhood.And the federal agencies that are supposed to be overseeing the safety of the operations are not doing their jobs.
Public health, according to the employees, was further compromised by open-air debris trucks hauling and scattering along the roads potentially asbestos-containing refuse to landfills meant only for safe construction and demolition waste.
The contractors who came forward said workers are not wearing the proper equipment on structures that may contain asbestos. They said workers should be wearing face masks and full body suits.
Other workers said regular dust masks were not good enough for buildings that may contain asbestos and contractors should be handing out dual cartridge respirators to employees.
They said the disposable face masks commonly used on sites were as useful at blocking asbestos fibers as wearing no protection at all.
Victoria Cintra, a spokeswoman for Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, said she also knows of widespread violations and the immigrant laborers her group represents are being put at unacceptably high risk.
"These violations are terrible," Cintra said. "People are going into houses and removing God knows what and they are doing it at best with Latex gloves. (The companies and regulators) have no regard for the future that the immigrant community will be going through in 15 or 20 years."
According to spokesmen with both Mississippi's Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, neither agency is sending enforcement officers to make sure that employers are complying with asbestos regulations.Hello?
"Specifically, in regards to asbestos, we do not have OSHA compliance officers south of I-10 with that as an assignment, no," said Jesse Baynes, OSHA assistant area director in Jackson.
"We are not in an enforcement mode south of I-10 unless there is an investigation of a fatality or a complaint. It is still an area under a federally declared disaster."
Baynes said OSHA had received asbestos complaints but none with locations of ongoing violations that they needed to investigate.
"We have heard that employers are not always reaching standards but not with the specificity that we can go out and check to see whether they really are or not," Baynes said.
Both agencies maintain that complying with asbestos regulations is the responsibility of the companies doing the work and not that of the government. They say they will enforce the laws when a company is caught shirking its duties under regulation.
"Everything we do involves (companies) self-reporting," said Dwight Wylie, with DEQ's air division. "They file stuff with us. We don't check."
"We are not in an enforcement mode south of I-10....It is still an area under a federally declared disaster." Which employers can get away with blatent violations of health and safety laws?
"Complying with asbestos regulations is the responsibility of the companies doing the work and not that of the government." So is driving safely, but that doesn't stop me from getting a ticket.
"Everything we do involves (companies) self-reporting," said Dwight Wylie, with DEQ's air division. "They file stuff with us. We don't check." Um, are we still in the United States. Last I checked, we were supposed to actually enforce the law, not wait for the evildoers to turn themselves in.
Anyone from federal EPA, OSHA or Congress home? Hello?
And then there's this little loophole:
"Debris on the ground is not subject to regulation," Wylie said.
Work site supervisors said the law defines a structure with two walls and a roof as a structural demolition project while a house that has been flattened is debris.
That distinction has opened up a de facto incentive to call structures debris and get it into unspecialized landfills as quickly as possible.
The employees who came forward said they knew of incidents in which structures with easily identifiable asbestos siding that were standing were destroyed and were treated as debris.
The employees said the companies doing that were in the business of hauling debris and anything that slowed them down meant less profit.