Five years after approving an experimental asbestos demolition project in Fort Worth, Texas, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admitted construction workers may not have been adequately protected from asbestos during the procedure.
In 2007, workers began demolition on one of the buildings in Fort Worth’s Oak Hollow apartment complex. During the project, workers stood several yards away from the asbestos-containing structures and sprayed the walls, ceilings and floors with a soapy formula.
This wet demolition method was tested as an alternative to the standard process in which asbestos is removed before construction begins.
Construction Workers and Government Employees at Risk
Although concern had previously been expressed about the safety of these alternative asbestos removal methods, it was not until Dec. 14, 2011, that the U.S Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins contacted the EPA with a formal complaint.
Elkins reached out to the EPA with regarding the method’s compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.
Construction workers and government employees were onsite without protective equipment, and post-demolition tests “demonstrated asbestos fibers releases.” The tests also indicated that dust settled outside of the construction area, placing the general public at risk for asbestos exposure as well.
Asbestos exposure can lead to serious illnesses such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. While prolonged exposure over a span of many years poses the greatest risk, rare cases have shown that even a single point of exposure can result in illness.
The EPA was advised to issue public notices to the construction workers and residents near the construction site.
Wet Asbestos Demolition Not Yet Proven
Although wet asbestos fibers are less likely to become airborne than dry fibers, which are considered friable, the EPA has yet to prove that the wet demolition method is “protective of human health.”
In comparative tests at Fort Chaffee, the alternative method was found to leave more asbestos particulate in the air than the standard removal methods. However, the air particulate levels produced by both methods were under the detection limit.
The Fort Worth project was the first urban test of the wet method, but alternative asbestos abatement practices have been considered since 1999 to reduce removal costs. The Fort Worth area had been proposed for a similar wet method experiment in 2005, but the project was shut down by the group Public Justice.
Other areas where alternative demolition procedures were approved include the Hanford Superfund Site in Richland, Washington, and a diffusion plant in Paducah, Kentucky.