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Thu., March 14, 2013, 5 p.m.

Bill would require asbestos labels for home building products

OLYMPIA – People buying supplies for a home remodeling project might not realize that they have asbestos in them. The state Senate says the product should say so, right on the label.

This week, it passed a proposal sponsored by a Spokane senator to require such labels on a 47-2 vote. If the House agrees, labels on everything from wallboard to shingles to floor tiles to caulk would have to say if there’s asbestos inside.

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The idea for that bill came from the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency staff, which inspects demolition sites for, among other things, to make sure asbestos wasn't getting into the air.

“This has been an issue for a while,” Bill Dameworth, agency director, said. It’s not usually a problem when wallboard goes up or shingles go on; it can be a problem when they are torn out, and the damaged item releases asbestos into the air.

That’s a known problem for buildings constructed through the latter half of the last century. It’s not as well known for newer buildings or remodeled structures, Dameworth said. “It’s kind of hard to find a building that you’re going to demolish that doesn’t have a lot of asbestos in it.”

Asbestos was banned from 1989-1991 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but since that time has been used by some manufactures in common home construction products. It might be listed as “mineral fibers” or Chrysotile, which is name for a type of white asbestos. Or it might not be listed at all.

The agency’s board of directors at one point thought about banning such products in Spokane County, but after study decided it made more sense to require labeling so consumers would know what they were buying, and make their own choices.

Dameworth contacted Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, with the idea for such a law, a bill was drafted and introduced, picked up several co-sponsors, received a hearing in the Senate Energy Committee, which heard testimony from Dameworth and others and was sent to the Senate floor.

It’s an example of legislation following the route described in most junior high civics classes, Billig said. (One suchvideo, "I'm Just a Bill," can be found here.)

In reality that’s the exception rather than the rule in Olympia where bills are often suggested by powerful interest groups, worked and reworked for political advantage as they move through committee and onto the floor.

Billig admitted to colleagues that he was surprised it was even possible to buy building materials with asbestos. Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said the committee checked with such retail outlets as Home Depot and Lowe’s, who didn’t consider the labels a burden. “We’re not going down the scare route,” Ericksen added.

In minutes, all Democrats and all but two Republicans said yes, and it was among dozens of bills sent to the House Wednesday, where it’s not expected to be controversial.

Dameworth said he thinks consumers would be glad to know what’s in their products. If there’s a negative reaction to products containing asbestos, somebody smart will start marketing products without it.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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