The Environmental Protection Agency is under fire in Fort Worth, Texas, because it approved an experimental method of handling the demolition of a building filled with asbestos.
The experiment may have exposed demolition workers and nearby members of the public to asbestos fibers, which can cause serious future health issues, including mesothelioma cancer.
The controversy involves an Oak Hollow apartment complex. The EPA in 2007 approved a “wet” method of demolition, which did not include the customary removal of asbestos by trained specialists in protective gear before the tear down began.
Instead, crews without protection were allowed to soak down asbestos-laden walls and ceilings with a watery substance during the demolition to keep the fibers from becoming airborne. The method was intended to save money, cutting out the high cost of asbestos abatement, and still protect the workers on site.
The method also was used in a similar demolition at the Army base in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.
Methods Threatened Public Safety
According to an “Early-Warning Report,” released Dec. 14 by the EPA’s inspector general, both sites “demonstrated asbestos fiber release.” The report also stated that, “unapproved methods threaten health and safety.”
The EPA’s review of its own approval was detailed Sunday in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. The EPA report said the agency should notify anyone who was in the area that particular day and all the workers who were part of the experimental method of demolition.
According to the report, demolition began early in the morning when children were walking past on their way to a nearby school.
The national advocacy group Public Justice has been urging the EPA to stop allowing the “Alternative Asbestos Control Method,” that has been used sporadically the past seven years.
This latest report from the inspector general was the first time the EPA has admitted there is a problem with the method.
‘Wet’ Method Used in Washington and Kentucky
The same experimental method was used at a Department of Energy site in Hanford, Washington, and will be used again in Paducah, Kentucky, according to Public Justice.
“We hope this new report will finally put the nail in the coffin of this unapproved and dangerous method of asbestos removal,” said Jim Hecker, director of Environmental Enforcement Project for Public Justice, on the organization’s website.
Michael Gange, the Fort Worth city assistant director over environment management, told the newspaper he would wait for a yet-to-be-published study from the EPA that will provide details and data on the apartment demolition before making his determination.
“Basically they’re saying, ‘Hey you found some potential emissions; did you actually have an exposure or not? You need to assess that and find that out,'” Gange said.