Asbestos hampers clean-up of old mill site

This blog has frequently written about the health hazard posed by asbestos in very old industrial buildings in North Carolina and surrounding states. Most often, the hazard has been revealed by the proposed renovation or demolition of an older facility. Occasionally, however, events such as fires and collapses can expose the expose the presence of asbestos-containing products in these old buildings in sudden and unexpected ways.

An abandoned 100-year-old carpet mill in Lafayette, Georgia was severely damaged by fire in November 2015. Several days were needed to fully extinguish the blaze, and nearby residents were encouraged to remain their homes during the night after the fire. An official of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, after touring the fire-blackened building, noted that many “classic” uses of asbestos products could be seen after the fire – in ceiling tiles, insulation wrapped around the plumbing, and similar uses. He said that few, if any, of the original asbestos-containing products in the building had been removed before the fire occurred. Most of the water used to battle the blaze – 110,000 gallons – was moved to a containment facility in a nearby town, but almost 50,000 gallons of asbestos-contaminated water remain on the site.

After a months-long negotiation, the owner of the ruined mill recently signed a settlement agreement with the EPA that specifies how the asbestos on the site will be removed. The burned portion of the building will be demolished, and the part that was relatively untouched by the fire will be stabilized. The complete abatement is expected to cost approximately $850,000.

Emergency air monitoring conducted immediately after the fire showed that no asbestos particles had migrated from the site, but this incident nevertheless shows that asbestos product exposure poses a significant health risk if the building is damaged by fire or weather. Exposure to airborne asbestos fibers can lead to several serious illnesses of the respiratory system, including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press, “Cleanup set to begin at abandoned, asbestos-ridden Barwick Mills site,” David Cobb, Sept. 3, 2016