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Home to naturally occurring asbestos, multiple military bases, industrial worksites and several vermiculite processing plants, North Carolina has a number of asbestos risks for its residents to be aware of. With three large military bases, veterans who served in the state may have been exposed to asbestos at their barracks or training facility. Workers at the state's mines, power plants, chemical factories and schools may also have been exposed to the fibers.
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Naturally occurring asbestos is found in the western portion of the state around the Appalachian Mountain range. Known asbestos deposits are found in eight counties, and some of these deposits are former mine locations where many workers were heavily exposed to asbestos.
Aside from the state's naturally occurring asbestos, a number of locations, such as workplaces or public buildings, have been a source of asbestos exposure for North Carolina residents.
Even if the asbestos in a building is considered safely contained, mistakes during renovation could pose an exposure risk to those nearby. For example, a state employee found workers removing asbestos from his building the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission offices without using proper safety equipment. He was allegedly fired for reporting these violations. The North Carolina Medical Society responded by stating that asbestos amounts were “minuscule.”
Many of the buildings at Fort Bragg, a military base in Fayetteville, were built with asbestos-containing materials. In 2008, a large scandal was exposed when a solider at the facility, along with up to nine other soldiers, was ordered to scrape asbestos tiles out of barracks and bring the materials to a nearby dumpster. The soldiers were exposed to the asbestos for 11 days without any proper training or gear, and tests revealed that the tile backing contained up to 25 percent chrysotile asbestos (anything over 1 percent asbestos is considered hazardous). Other soldiers in the area may have been exposed to asbestos in the air after the project, although the Army denies that any of the soldiers were placed in danger.
North Carolina is also home to the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. This facility includes several camps and a Marine Corps air station, all of which may pose an asbestos exposure threat to the men and women who serve at the base. Asbestos was found on the pipes at Camp Grainger and both buildings at Tarawa Terrace.
In a public release addressing environmental concerns at the facility, North Carolina’s Seymour Johnson Air Force Base indicated that the following materials on site may contain asbestos:
The air force base has regulated that all renovation projects on campus must be preceded by an asbestos examination and that any materials containing asbestos must be removed by an abatement professional. They also report that all on-base housing units were built with asbestos-free materials.
Founded in 1954 as a of Zonolite, Inc., a W.R. Grace-owned vermiculite refinery (at one time owned by Carolina Vermiculite Company) received at least 150 shipments of materials from Libby, Montana’s W.R Grace vermiculite mine. The facility stopped processing Grace vermiculite in June 1987. More than 10,100 tons of asbestos-tainted vermiculite arrived at the facility in High Point, where workers exposed the mineral to heat until it “popped.” While processing the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite for use in paints, plastics and construction materials, workers at the refinery were at high risk for inhaling airborne asbestos. Testing in 2000 found that the remaining soil at the former facility was not a current asbestos problem and that no remedial action was necessary.
While the High Point refinery was known to process asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also listed three other North Carolina facilities that “potentially” received Libby’s vermiculite ore. W.R. Grace and Company’s shipping invoices did not indicate that any shipments had been made to these facilities, but ore processed from other vermiculite companies may have been laced with asbestos. These other North Carolina-based vermiculite processing facilities included the Southern Vermiculite Plant in Franklin County, Carolina Wholesale in Sanford and the American Vermiculite Company in Spruce Pine.
In December 2008, the EPA issued a $2.1 million grant to the North Carolina-based Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences. The grant was designated for the study of vermiculite, a mineral that resembles asbestos, to determine the similarities and differences between the two substances. Laboratory studies conducted during the three-year study hope to identify the specific toxicity of the fibers as well as the retention rate of the fibers in the lungs of lab rats.
EMSL Analytical, Inc., a company that specializes in environmental quality testing, grew into a newer and larger Charlotte facility in August 2011. Company officials said that the increased demand for asbestos testing in the area necessitated finding a larger facility, which is now twice as large as their original workspace. The lab will test a wide range of samples, including Asbestos PLM bulk samples, fiber count PCM air samples and Asbestos TEM air samples.
Another large North Carolina-based environmental remediation company, Environmental Holdings Group, estimates that 40 percent of its projects are asbestos-related. The company has completed over 2,000 removal tasks in the past 10 years, including several projects in nearby states.
Asbestos labs such as ESML Analytical are regulated under North Carolina’s Asbestos Hazard Management Program (AHMP). The AHMP regulates training for asbestos professionals and issues permits for asbestos removal projects. It also investigates public complaints about exposed asbestos. Under the AHMP, industrial operations in North Carolina must also perform routine air monitoring, install and regularly inspect air cleaning devices and contract with a licensed asbestos abatement business for the removal of friable asbestos.
Businesses and individuals who break state or federal asbestos regulations during maintenance, demolition or any other work involving asbestos are subject to fines from the EPA and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
In December 2014, the city of Charlotte paid a $2,500 fine to Mecklenburg County after failing to obtain the proper permits needed to renovate a Charlotte Fire Department building on North Graham Street. A former employee of the fire department claims she was fired by the city for reporting safety issues in the building, including asbestos and mold. The city maintains it let her go because she shared an offensive social media post on Facebook.
According to Sue Rutledge, head of Charlottes building services division, officials did not know permits were needed for the repairs that took place, including the removal of a temporary wall and other renovations. However, the city later admitted that it should have sought a permit for the job.
In June 2008, the North Carolina Department of Labor issued a $350 fine to Gray Stone Day School in Misenheimer for neglecting to inform its employees about asbestos-containing materials on site. Pfeiffer Universitys Harris Science Building, where the day school is located, contained asbestos insulation on steam pipes and spray-on asbestos fireproofing material.
In addition to the fine, Gray Stone received a written citation for not having a written hazard communication program that explains potential hazards to employees. Another citation was issued over a lack of employee training on hazardous materials.
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