Audit says state is behind on asbestos inspections. Health expert says that's unacceptable. – Michigan Radio


Asbestos popped up a few times in the news this week.

The Detroit Free Press published an investigative piece about how the quick pace of demolitions of abandoned homes and buildings in Detroit might be endangering residents.

The city says that’s demonstrably fake.

Then yesterday, Michigan’s Auditor General found the state’s asbestos remediation program needs more inspectors and more money. As Michigan Radio reported, the program is falling behind in its reports and follow-up visits.

Dr. Michael Harbut is a specialist in occupational medicine and an expert at treating asbestos-related illnesses at St. John Providence in Farmington Hills, and today he joined Stateside to clarify what asbestos is, and why it’s a health hazard.

He said asbestos is a natural fiber that works as a “fantastic insulator for heat and for electrical transmission.” That means it’s excellent at keeping buildings warm, he said.

“It was really called a ‘miracle fiber’ for decades until it was learned that it was miraculous if you survived inhaling asbestos fiber,” Harbut said, “In that the asbestos fibers can be breathed in in very small amounts and cause scarring of the lungs, shortness of breath, lung cancer, mesothelioma – which is a particular kind of cancer caused only by asbestos in the United States – and really, an increase in colon cancer as well.”

Harbut said the fiber had been used “ubiquitously” in American and Western European construction for hundreds of years.

Many believe it’s now been outlawed, he said, but that’s not the case. In fact, he said manufacturers aren’t required to report the fiber to people who use it if it’s only in 1% of a mixture.

That, he said, is “craziness.” He said there is “no such thing” as a safe level of exposure to asbestos.

For the full conversation, including Harbut’s take on right demolition procedures when asbestos is involved and his take on the under-resourced and under-performing asbestos inspection program, listen above.

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