Two-thirds of federal buildings miss required asbestos checks

Two-thirds of federal buildings surveyed by the Government Accountability Office missed their routine five-year inspections for asbestos, as required by the General Services Administration. And of those, 52% haven’t been checked in more than a decade according to a watchdog report.

GSA is being pressured by Congress to offload federal buildings its no longer using as a result of hybrid work, changing government prioroties and an aging real estate portfolio. But the country’s largest landlord will have a hard time selling off property or bringing in new tenants if it doesn’t know the extent of contamination issues, the March 4 report said.

“… In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal agencies, including GSA, expect to decrease the amount of leased and owned space across the federal portfolio because of personnel who will continue to telework,” said GAO investigators in the report. “This may result in a greater need to dispose of unneeded federal real estate, making it even more important to find ways to efficiently dispose of federal real property.”

GSA cannot confidently say whether asbestos in federal offices is a problem, the said. And, to be sure, it may not be.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber that was widely used in construction for its flame-retardant properties. Legislation in the late 1980s to limited its use, and it’s health risks are now well-known thanks to television commercials about mesothelioma. But asbestos maintained in good condition and undisturbed poses little health risk, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and numerous academic reports. It’s when ceiling tiles, cabinet tops or shingles made with asbestos become damaged and “friable” that harmful fibers are released into the air and at risk of inhalation or ingestion.

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