Last month, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) sent out a draft of their Current Intelligence Bulletin titled, “Asbestos Fibers and Other Elongate Mineral Particles: State of the Science and Roadmap for Research Version 4″. While officials do not consider the document ready for full release and does constitute any shift in the agency’s policies regarding asbestos, they have asked for peer reviews and public comments on their research findings.
The issues surrounding asbestos exposure, both from an environmental and a worker safety standpoint, have made headlines around the world, especially in countries that do not have the resources to employ strict regulatory oversight over the use of this dangerous material. For nearly forty years, researchers studying the causes of certain types of lung diseases have understood the correlation between asbestos exposure and respiratory ailments.
One factor that has made this research somewhat problematic, according to the document, is the level of detail involved in studying asbestos and similar types of minerals that extrude elongate mineral particles (EMPs). Over the years, scientists who have studied these materials have published conflicting reports, sometimes mislabeling a certain mineral that extrudes EMPs as asbestos. The purpose behind the NIOSH bulletin is to reconcile these differences.
Developed by engineers and scientific experts, the NIOSH document also seeks to give policy makers a sound and easy-to-understand basis for future asbestos policies. The document will also explore the potential health and policy issues surrounding the use of non-asbestos-based materials that also contain EMPs. The agency will continue to seek peer review and public comments on the proposed roadmap until mid-April.
John Howard, director of NIOSH, said that the new roadmap would carry on the Institute’s ideals of investigating scientific issues as they affect safety in the workplace. He also stressed the transparency under which NIOSH operates, allowing for public comment and qualified scientific review of an ongoing government study, stating that such transparency was “vital” in helping the agency create intelligent, enforceable policies.
While Mr. Howard and others at NIOSH expect the results of the new roadmap document to be an important step in determining future policies on asbestos, the complete guidelines will not represent the last step in the process. The agency has also announced that they will partner with other federal agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to define the scope and breadth of the research efforts toward determining the effects of exposure to asbestos and other EMPs.
Other parts of the process will include worker education programs. The partner agencies will produce and distribute materials to businesses that deal in construction, demolition and asbestos abatement projects to bring the issues surrounding asbestos and EMPs to the forefront, as well as any new policies that they will develop from the results of the research.
After the public comment period closes, NIOSH will revise the roadmap and submit the new draft for another round of reviews. The new document is expected to include a new list of terms, focusing on the mineralogy of EMPs, as well as an emphasis on cooperation between regulatory agencies, business owners and workers in maintaining a safe environment.
Sources: NIOSH, EHSToday.com