West Virginia’s industries, primarily coal and lumber are two industries that are infamous for asbestos contamination. Asbestos will be present in coal deposits and asbestos was long as used as insulation and fireproofing for both mining and logging machinery. This compounded by the use of asbestos in related buildings, such as power plants, lumber mills and coal refineries. Long term exposure to asbestos greatly increases the risk of cancer as well as asbestos related illnesses.
Asbestos in mining
Asbestos occurs naturally, but is generally indurate and not harmful to those that come into contact with it. This changes as soon as mining activities take place in that area. Coal mining will breach the asbestos deposits are breached and break apart, as fibrous material is naturally inclined to do. When this contamination happens in mine shafts, the risks are amplified by a lack of ventilation. Often in mine shafts with asbestos contamination, the poor ventilation leads to a very high concentration of micro asbestos fibers, which cannot be seen by the human eye. Coal miners will find a few decades later that long term exposure to coal dust that contained asbestos fibers will cause a number of respiratory illnesses, all of which could have been prevented with proper safety equipment.
Asbestos has long been used to insulate machinery. Asbestos does not conduct electricity, insulates heat and like glass, will disintegrate rather than melt under high heat. The problem with this application is that asbestos is a friable material that breaks apart without much effort. Generally, for many applications, it merely requires nominal pressure from a human hand. Although the machine insulation is likely to be more durable when mixed with other compounds, if the material still contains at least 1% asbestos by weight, it represents a health hazards to workers as its wears down. Asbestos insulating materials will be found on machinery in coal refineries, power plants and lumber mills.
Asbestos had also found use in the steel working industry for heat proofing. Many metal working plants had employers asbestos insulation and many steelworkers consequently have developed asbestos related illness.
West Virginia asbestos laws largely follow federal statutes for asbestos abatement, disposal and worker safety. Classifications of asbestos containing materials are also based on the federal distinctions between friable and non-friable material. Notification West Virginia asbestos laws also require most structures, excluding most residences, to notify the state before undergoing asbestos abatement. Individuals may remove asbestos from their homes, but are advised against doing this. All others must notify the West Virginia Radiation, Toxics and Indoor Air Division.
There are two state agencies that work to enforce West Virginia asbestos laws. As mentioned before, the WVRTIAD will collect notifications of asbestos abatement, maintain records of those that are licensed in a specific asbestos profession, and facilitate the training of new asbestos professionals. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection will prevent violation of federal law by providing procedure to dispose of asbestos waste accordingly.