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State Legislators Debate Required State Training for Asbestos Workers

TOPEKA – During Monday’s House Energy and Environment committee meeting, legislators debated on a bill that would eliminate requirements that people working with asbestos receive state-specific training and certification.

Asbestos, which was previously used during construction because of its resistance to heat, fire, and chemicals, creates an increased risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare cancer that affects the lining of organs in the chest and abdomen. Experts said that current requirements for workers aren’t necessary because they exceed or duplicate existing federal rules.

Mitchell, who spoke Monday to the House Energy and Environment Committee, said KDHE supports House Bill 2516, the Asbestos Control Act. The bill would eliminate the Kansas-specific training, licensing and certification program for employees working with asbestos. Workers instead would receive the asbestos training mandated by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency. Westar Energy also supports the bill.

Mitchell told the committee that changing the law would not compromise public safety. KDHE will continue to maintain high standards of oversight for people working with asbestos.

However, KDHE will be limited in monitoring asbestos, due to a shortage of air inspectors. Mitchell said that KDHE does not send inspectors to every job site in Kansas. Instead, KDHE conducts spot checks.

Opponents of the bill argued that there are health risks if the state-specific certification requirement is eliminated. Andy Sanchez, executive secretary-treasurer for the Kansas chapter of the AFL-CIO, told the committee that changes in the certification requirements could translate into more asbestos-related cancer.

“It appears to be a bill with relaxed standards for workers,” Sanchez said. “Certification is discreetly important and that the public is well-served with this. This is something that we don’t want to take lightly.”

Maintaining the certification and documentation will offer some degree of public accountability, he said, and he urged lawmakers to conduct more research on the issue.

Eliminating inspections also could have financial implications as well. The state could save $85,000 a year because it will not need to spend money on training, the committee learned. Also, the bill would reduce revenues for the state’s General Fund by $130,000, but that money would be transferred to the Air Fee Fund, which supports anti-pollution efforts.