CPSC health scientists have determined this week that most of the ceilings of the offices occupied by approximately 615 CPSC employees in the agency's Bethesda headquarters were treated in 1968 with a textured surface material containing asbestos. During repairs or renovations in recent years that material may have been disturbed to the extent that asbestos fibers may have been released.
CPSC officials do not know whether any staff members have been exposed to a health risk because of the presence of this material on the office ceilings. As a precaution, however, agency officials have consulted with CPSC health professionals and asbestos experts outside the agency to determine the best response. On the basis of their recommendations, CPSC Executive Director today directed that-the following actions be taken:
-- All CPSC offices in the Bethesda headquarters (known as Westwood Towers) are to be cleaned using special vacuuming equipment to remove any asbestos fibers which may have fallen from the ceilings. The work will be performed by a professional contractor as expeditiously as possible and with a minimal disruption of staff activities in the offices, according to a cleaning schedule to be announced later this week.
-- CPSC promptly will undertake inspections of all other facilities at 19 locations nationwide where CPSC staff members are employed, and the appropriate protective measures will be taken, if necessary.
-- All ceilings will be inspected to ensure that they are in stable condition precluding release of asbestos fibers. The best available information suggests that the textured material should be left intact if it is in good condition; removing it or attempting to seal it by any known process may lead to fiber release.
-- CPSC will initiate air sampling in the Bethesda headquarters to make certain that the above steps are effective.
-- Any future repairs or renovations in the Bethesda offices involving the ceiling material will be conducted only in the absence of CPSC staffers, who will return to their workspaces only after the offices again have been cleaned.
Responses To Reporter's Inquiries
Exposure Levels From The Ceilings:
We do not believe that this potential exposure to asbestos poses a cancer risk to any CPSC staff members. But it is the type of exposure which we are convinced could be regulated under our statutes. And as a precautionary measure, we believe that any unnecessary exposure to asbestos fibers should be eliminated.
We are, afterall, a health and safety agency; so it is especially appropriate that we be concerned about this type of exposure. We must be concerned about all levels of exposure, no matter how small. And this type of textured paint is on our list which is subject to the general order we will be issuing soon, in order to obtain more information about the use of asbestos in about 30 categories of consumer products.
Four Points To Consider About Asbestos which make it inadvisable for consumers themselves to attempt to correct any potential problems with textured paint:
-- Asbestos is very difficult for the consumer to identify and identification cannot be accomplished solely visually (without a microscope).
-- CPSC believes that any exposure to asbestos may involve some increase of risk; no safe level of exposure or so-called "threshold level" has been established. It is impossible to estimate with any precision the exact degree of risk associated with any low-level exposures.
-- Asbestos in a consumer product is not the problem, per se. It is the release of respirable fibers which causes concern, whether as a consequence of deterioration of the product, vibration or damage, etc. Tampering with the ceiling or wall material may result in the release of fibers which otherwise might not have occurred.
-- Removal of asbestos is a sophisticated process. Specially trained people are necessary to perform the corrections, and poorly performed work can create a greater exposure hazard than it eliminates. These workers must be familiar with the hazards of exposure to asbestos and how to use respirators and other safety equipment.
Advice To Consumers
who may have texturized paint containing asbestos on their walls or ceilings:
-- Examine your walls and ceilings and even if you are concerned that the texturized material may contain asbestos, do not disturb it if it appears to be in good shape (stable condition, not deteriorating or flaking).
-- Do not attempt to paint over the material or in any other way try to seal it, since this probably will be ineffective and may result in substantial fiber release.
-- If the textured material appears to be deteriorated and releasing fibers, consumers may wish to pay a professional to remove a sample of the material and analyze it to confirm the presence of asbestos in the textured material. (This expense may amount to as much as $100).
-- Consumers wishing to remove asbestos-containing textured material from their homes must hire professionals who are trained and equipped for such potentially hazardous work. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established regional asbestos coordinators across the country in conjunction with their program to remove asbestos materials from the nation's school buildings.
-- Consumers may contact their regional EPA asbestos coordinator by telephoning 800-424-9065 ( in Washington D.C., 554-1404) or by calling the CPSC Hotline at 800-638-2772. These coordinators may be able to supply the names of local contractors experienced in asbestos removal work.
Statement By CPSC Chairman Susan B. King
Our objective as a health and safety agency is to reduce any risk from exposure to asbestos to an absolute minimum; and we intend to eliminate all unnecessary uses of asbestos from all consumer products.
While we remain uncertain that any employee of CPSC has been exposed to asbestos from the Bethesda office ceilings, we equally are unable to establish that CPSC have not been exposed. Therefore, the Commission, through its Executive Director, is taking a number of precautionary steps immediately, and will continue to monitor the situation on a daily basis.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually. CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical or mechanical hazard. CPSC's work to help ensure the safety of consumer products - such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters and household chemicals -– contributed to a decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 40 years.
Federal law bars any person from selling products subject to a publicly-announced voluntary recall by a manufacturer or a mandatory recall ordered by the Commission.
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