Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Public Libraries around Nation Facing Asbestos Remediation

As the nation's public libraries age, they - like schools - face updates that result in closures, often because older buildings like schools and libraries contain significant amounts of asbestos that represent a threat to public health.
Asbestos, a fibrous mineral widely used in insulation, floor and roofing tiles, tile glues, and some ceiling panels up to the 1970s, when U.S. health officials began to recognize its dangers, is the most common cause of certain illnesses, namely asbestosis - a severe, debilitating respiratory disease - lung and digestive system cancers, and mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a particularly lethal form of cancer that commonly lies dormant for several decades before producing enough symptoms to allow for diagnosis. When finally diagnosed, however, most patients are given about a year to live. Fewer than 10 percent live five years, even with second generation chemotherapy agents like Alimta, combination therapies, and radical surgery to remove tumors.
The Wilson Library in Bellingham, Washington - which was closed for asbestos remediation and remodeling recently - was reopened and then closed again from approximately 8:45 a.m. to 9:25 a.m, Pacific time, Friday morning due to an error in the ventilation system's automatic programming. The remediation and remodeling was scheduled to be completed on Thursday, and the ventilation system automatically set to run again on Friday morning.
Unfortunately, the project was not completed on time, but the ventilation system went on again regardless.
Students and library employees were evacuated as soon as the error was realized, about 8:45, and allowed to return about an hour later, after air quality tests were conducted to insure that the library's air was free of asbestos particles.
The Wilson Library, as part of Western Washington University (WWU), falls under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPAs) Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) guidelines in terms of asbestos management, so students, faculty and staff were sent e-mails informing them of the nature of the event and the reasons behind the closure and re-opening.
AHERA guidelines mandate that all schools, whether public private or denominational, inspect for asbestos; create an asbestos hazard plan; provide yearly information on asbestos hazards and the plan; inform of any abatement actions that take place (or are planned); designate a contact/liaison person to manage the asbestos plan; and provide custodial staff with asbestos-awareness training.
Western Washington University's Director of Environmental Health and Safety, Gayle Shipley, and WWU staff acted in accordance with the university's AHERA planning by advising of the action taken; i.e., the 8:45 closure, but clearly one step in the process was missed or the ventilation system would not have come back on when it did, and this may be why the EPA strongly recommends its six-step plan to insure that at least one individual is cognizant of all phases of asbestos remediation, monitoring and information dissemination.
That more libraries, both public and collegiate, will face asbestos remediation of some kind in the near future is a given. In Minnesota, the Waseca Public Library is getting ready to close from July 30 to August 23 to enable workers to remove old asbestos tiles and replace them with carpeting. And in Minneapolis, the historic Southeast Library - designed by renowned Minnesota modernist architect Ralph Rapson in 1964 - was closed in 2006 as part of budget reorganization but now faces reopening thanks to the Minneapolis/Hennepin County Library systems merger.
Southeast Library will admittedly need asbestos abatement and a new roof, but its demolition (which was discouraged by historians who appealed to the City of Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission and the City Council to designate the building as an historic landmark) has been avoided.
According to one study, it is as costly and time-consuming to demolish a building with asbestos and remove the debris to an approved landfill as it is to perform asbestos remediation and return the structure to use. This is primarily because asbestos abatement has to take place even where demolition is planned, and because hazardous waste landfills are becoming increasingly crowded, leading to higher and higher costs for dumping asbestos debris.
In fact, the real cost of restoring, reusing and re-purposing older buildings lies in renovation and retrofitting, not in asbestos remediation.

Concord Steam Plant Fined for Asbestos, Other Violations

On June 20, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor, cited Concord Steam Corp. of Concord, New Hampshire for 73 alleged violations of OSHA's safety standards.
The charges stem from an injury at the Concord Steam Plant, a wood- and biomass-fired facility which provides downtown Concord with piped steam heat through eight miles of insulated piping to state government buildings and two local hospitals. The plant also produces electricity for sale to regional utilities.
The worker in question was seriously burned in a Jan. 22 fire that happened when pressurized oil leaked from a boiler and caught fire. The company has been assessed $104,200 in proposed fines for willful, serious, and other-than-serious lapses in plant safety, among them the presence of asbestos-containing (and potentially asbestos-containing) debris.
The asbestos alone is a significant health hazard, raising the specter of asbestosis, certain lung and digestive system tumors, and mesothelioma, a generally lethal form of cancer of the mesothelial linings of the chest and abdomen - all of them resulting primarily from asbestos exposure. The worst, however, is mesothelioma, which typically lies dormant for about three generations before producing symptoms of such seriousness a diagnosis is always positive, and highly negative in terms of survival rates.
According to reports, the OSHA inspection triggered by worker injury resulted in finding boiler doors that were cracked, bulging and unable to be closed, raising the risk of fire and explosion if combustible materials in the plant, like piles of wood dust, ignited, as happened during the inspection.
OSHA also cited the plant for other chemical, mechanical, electrical, and combustion hazards which could lead not only to asbestos-related diseases, but to cuts, burns, falls, electrocution, suffocation, and crushing injuries of the limbs and torso. The citations include (safety) exits that were blocked or unmarked; failure to survey for asbestos, advise workers of its presence, clean it up or train workers in safe asbestos practices; an untrained and unequipped fire management team; the lack of alarms or an emergency action plan; untested and uninspected fire extinguishers; inadequacy of the plant's confined space, respirator and lockout/tagout programs (which enable workers to disable and mark inoperable or dangerous systems); inexperienced fork lift operators; unguarded machinery; and a failure to mark hazardous chemicals and maintain a chemical hazard safety protocol.
The citations include one willful violation with a fine of $22,000 based on asbestos accumulations, 65 serious citations with a fine of $79,800, and seven less-than-serious citations with $2,400 in fines for substandard injury and illness recording and reporting.
Concord Steam Corp. has until August 3 to either comply or contest. Concord Steam Vice President Mark Salzman had no comment except to say the company is reviewing the citations. A meeting with OSHA representatives is scheduled for August 10.
Rosemarie Ohar, OSHA's area director in Concord, notes that the defects must be "fully and effectively corrected".
One other major concern is the steam pipes under the city of Concord, which are likely wrapped with asbestos and in serious need of replacement or repair, according to one observer. Should they explode, the asbestos hazard inside the plant would extend to the streets of Concord, exacerbated by the possibility that scalding steam might cause serious injury to passersby.
Given that Concord steam leases the building from the state, the liability in that instance could become widespread.

Asbestos Removal Completed in New Jersey Firehouse

After a renovation project that took seven years and cost nearly four million dollars, firemen from the South Orange, New Jersey, fire department moved back into their historic firehouse. One of the reasons that the work was so lengthy and costly was the discovery of asbestos in the walls.
South Orange village treasurer and chief financial officer John Gross said that the project would have been completed on time and within budget were it not for the extensive labor involved in asbestos removal and disposal. "Asbestos was discovered in the walls and the ceilings," said Mr. Gross, "So there was $700,000 in unanticipated cost."
The asbestos findings added much more work to the renovation of the old firehouse, originally built in 1925 to house horse-drawn fire trucks. The affected walls and ceilings had to be stripped bare to remove the dangerous substance. Also, additional safety measures had to be put in place to protect workers from asbestos exposure. The project also required that workers employ environmentally safe disposal techniques for the asbestos, which also added to the project costs.
The original project was supposed to be completed within eighteen months, according to South Orange Fire Chief Jeffrey Markey, a thirty-four year veteran of the department. During the asbestos remediation, firefighters were housed in trailers while fire trucks and other equipment were often left in the elements. He said, "We had a lot of mechanical problems from them being out in the weather - valves, electrical connections. Fire trucks are meant to be housed. They should work in all weather, but they are not meant to be sitting out there."
One of the phases of the renovation called for a new system to deal with heating, cooling and ventilation of the old building. This phase of the project could not take place until the asbestos remediation was complete. If asbestos fibers had leached into the ventilation system, the exposure to asbestos could have caused serious health problems for the firefighters and other staff in the building.
Chief Markey also had ten years of experience as an architectural draftsman before joining the fire department. He wanted to make sure that contractors and other workers on the historic site kept the look and feel of the building intact while making it safe for his firefighters and bringing it up to date for the twenty-first century. He said, "It took a tremendous amount of oversight. We had the opportunity to have a clean slate."
Other village officials, while relieved at the completion of the project, were not as pleased with the cost overruns, length of time involved, or the inconveniences incurred while the work was underway. South Orange Village President Douglas Newman said, "While completion of renovations to South Orange's historic firehouse have taken far longer than anyone reasonable could have imagined, it's gratifying to see this important project finally completed." Village Trustee Michael Goldberg called the project, "an example of everything not to do."

HR 682, Re 2005 Asbestos Trust Trading, Reintroduced

On June 12, HR 682, also known as the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, was referred to the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.
The law relates to insider trading as a result of insider information gained by members of Congress or the legislative, administrative and judicial branches of government.
First introduced in 2006 by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Congressman Brian Baird (D-WA), brought up again in 2008, and now reintroduced for a third time, the bill was ostensibly inspired by the trading activities of Tony Rudy, a former aide to ex-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), who pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
But it has a larger connection, one related to asbestos and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), who in 2005 announced to the upper chamber of the Congress that laws would soon be put in place to provide a multi-billion dollar fund to settle legacy asbestos lawsuits, many of which had resulted in bankruptcy for major corporations like Johns Manville and Owens Corning.
It was big, and very new news to most of the nation, but not to Wall Street investors apparently. The day before Frist's announcement, shares in Chicago-based USG Corp., the world's largest sheetrock manufacturer - which had filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2001 in relation to its gypsum wallboard unit - jumped more than $2, with trading up by 300 percent. The obvious conclusion was that news of the trust had leaked from Congress to the Street.
Unfortunately, given current law, trading on such information is perfectly legal, and will continue to be until HR 682 is passed by Congress and signed into law. The question is, given the influence of politicians in the financial sector, are members of Congress willing to pass a law that limits their freedom to use such information to their advantage?
HR 682 aims to correct the imbalance by requiring lawmakers to disclose stock transactions of $1,000 or more within 90 days, and forcing political intelligence groups like Prudential Financial Inc., Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.(the largest bankruptcy in the U.S., at $600 billion in assets), and Stanford Washington Research Group, to register with the government just like lobbying firms.
These firms, which have operated without impunity and largely without government oversight since their emergence in the 1970s, provide investors with inside information about pending legislation that will influence stock prices and the market, as demonstrated by the USG episode.
The transparency of such a law would do a great deal to improve confidence in Wall Street, at least in the eyes of most Americans, who have become seriously disenchanted with insider trading, hedge funds and derivatives as a result of the recent recession, which many tie to the housing bubble burst of 2008.
More important, it would prevent similar abuses in the future by impeding companies like USG and shareholders from capitalizing on pending legislation, which had the unfortunate effect (in USG's case) of benefiting the company and its shareholders while doing nothing to minimize legacy asbestos costs or aid those suffering with asbestos-related injuries or illnesses as a result of working for such firms.
Asbestos-related diseases are among the most distressing and lethal of illnesses, resulting in everything from asbestosis - a severe and debilitating respiratory ailment - to respiratory and digestive system cancers. Of these latter, the most serious is mesothelioma, which has a decades-long onset before producing symptoms. Mesothelioma is largely considered incurable, and most patients diagnosed are given about a year to live - a situation recently improved, if only slightly, by newer drugs like Alimta (pemetrexed), and dual drug therapies.

St. Louis Judge Reverses Judgment in Asbestos Case

The federal judge who heard the case regarding improper treatment of asbestos in demolished buildings near the St. Louis airport reversed her earlier decision last week. The case dealt with houses near the airport that were demolished to make room for a new runway. A group of concerned residents in the nearby town of Bridgeton filed the suit, claiming that airport authorities used improper techniques to tear down the buildings and that they did not employ proper asbestos disposal methods.
The local residents claim that contractors sprayed the potentially toxic asbestos fibers down with water, a technique known as the "wet method", to keep the fibers from becoming airborne. Airborne asbestos fibers are known to cause mesothelioma and other forms of lung cancer in people who breathe them in. The "wet method" is much faster and cheaper than standard remediation and disposal methods. Contractors received approval to use the "wet method" from St. Louis County Health Department officials, although the tactic does not meet with federal environmental regulations.
Last September, U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson ruled in favor of the citizens' group, called FACTS (Families for Asbestos Compliance, Testing and Safety) and stated that officials with the city and the airport violated federal regulations. After the judge made her ruling, attorneys for the airport and the city asserted that the group did not have the standing to file the original suit.
Judge Jackson reversed her earlier ruling and stated that FACTS did not have the standing to make the earlier claim. According to the reversed ruling, the group would have had to show that such violations were either in the process of happening or would occur in the near future. Since the last asbestos treatment occurred in the summer of 2004, the judge said that neither set of circumstances applied in this case. When the suit originated in May 2005, the demolitions had already been completed.
This reversal prevents airport and city authorities from incurring any penalties for the demolitions. Gerald Slay, Senior Deputy Director of St. Louis' Lambert International Airport, was pleased with the decision. He asserted that he and other airport authorities acted to protect both the health of the public and the sanctity of the environment during the demolitions and did their best to follow all laws and regulations in the process.
Jim Hecker, an attorney with the group Public Justice who represented FACTS in the case, disagreed with the reversal but has not made a decision on whether or not to appeal the verdict. He did say that the case signified a "major victory" for the group. Although the residents in the St. Louis case had their ruling reversed, the effect of the earlier verdict has been to stop the "wet method" of asbestos treatment in other cities.
In 2003, Missouri Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond swayed EPA Administrator and former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman to allow St. Louis contractors to use the method in place of the more expensive asbestos cleanup processes. According to Becky Dolph, EPA Deputy Counsel, federal regulations allow for "wet method" treatments when a building in immediate danger of structural collapse has been targeted for demolition, as the building may not be viable enough to withstand more stringent asbestos removal methods. She said that, in this case, St. Louis city officials used the method in cases where the "immediate danger" criterion did not apply.

Univ. of Kentucky Student Center Undergoes Remodel, Asbestos Remediation

The student center at the University of Kentucky (UK) is undergoing a renovation in what appears to be full compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency AHERA (Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act) regulations, which govern all U.S. schools - whether private, public or for-profit. That is, the rooms are sealed with plastic sheeting and signs posted to alert the unwary that professional asbestos remediation is taking place.
According to UK's Director of Environmental Management Bob Kjelland, the floor tiles and glue have been confirmed to contain asbestos, but Kjelland stresses that there is nothing to worry about. He and his team have everything under control, including a post-remediation, 24-hour air quality assessment, scheduled for July 21, which will confirm that any asbestos particle levels that might have escaped are within safe levels.
After that, work will resume on rooms 111, 113, 115, 117 and 119, in the oldest part of the student center, where old carpet covers even older tile. Student Center Director Rhonda King estimates the age of both at about 60 years. The university itself was built in 1865.
Once the antiquated and potentially dangerous floor tiles are out, phase 2 - largely consisting of surface renovations - can begin.
Kjelland was also quick to point out that the remediation presents no real dangers as long as the tiles remain in unbroken condition. It is only when asbestos-containing materials are broken, crushed or damaged that asbestos fibers leak out.
Then, they have the potential to cause a number of asbestos-related diseases including asbestosis, certain lung and digestive system cancers, and mesothelioma. The first, a chronic and debilitating respiratory disease, is usually developed after prolonged exposure, but the latter three - particularly mesothelioma, which is cancer of the mesothelial lining of the chest or abdomen - can be triggered by a single instance of contact. In fact, none of the agencies charged with monitoring, reporting and dealing with asbestos-related diseases - OSHA, the CDC, nor the American Cancer Society - has ever established minimum, safe levels of asbestos exposure.
The university-wide policy, based on AHERA regulations, is to hire a certified professional to remove the tiles, Kjelland notes. Because the contractor the university uses is accredited, and does at least 10 similar procedures a month, anything that might go wrong can be quickly and safely dealt with, though Kjelland emphasizes the remediation/renovation is routine.
The university also posted signs around the rooms to notify students and the public, and the sheeting serves to restrict access and confine any dispersal of particles.
The renovations, consisting of new flooring, furniture, paint and blinds, will eventually take place in all the first floor rooms of the student center, as well as in several other locations throughout the building. The remediation/renovations are staged so as not to severely impact the university's budget, which - like the rest of the country - has fallen on difficult times.
This summer was chosen, according to King, because it provided an interval when the high-traffic rooms wouldn't be so much in demand. The university served almost 27,000 students in the 2008-09 school year, 70 percent of them undergraduates and 88 percent attending full-time.

N. Carolina Asbestos Textile Workers Show High Mortality Rates

A new study by Duke University, in conjunction with the University of Nevada (UNR) and the University of North Carolina, shows that former North Carolina workers employed in asbestos-textile plants have a definitively higher rate of asbestos-related diseases than the population at large.
The study, headed by Dana Loomis, Interim Director, UNR's School of Community Health Sciences, examined 5,770 employees who worked at least one day between January 1, 1950 and December 31, 1973.
The results, which showed that the mortality rate was significantly higher for all causes (1.47 as compared to a value of 1.00 for the general population), also showed that deaths from lung cancer ranked at 1.96 (as compared to a value of 1.00).
The rate of deaths from pleural cancer (also called mesothelioma) was also elevated, as was pneumonoconiosis, with risks for other types of lung cancers and asbestosis rising with cumulative asbestos fiber exposures.
The pleura are the membranes that line the inside of the chest cavity and surround the lungs, enabling the lungs to expand to the appropriate degree inside the diaphragm when people breathe. Pleural mesothelioma is a type of pleural cancer caused primarily by asbestos fibers, and is the most common type of mesothelioma.
Asbestos fibers, inhaled, result in irritation of the pleura, or mesothelial lining. Because the body has no way to expel the fibers, the persistent irritation leads to lesions, which in turn lead to cancer.
Pneumoconiosis, the second category of occupational lung diseases, is an interstitial disease, a classic example of which is pulmonary fibrosis. Interstitial diseases affect the walls of the air sacs inside the lungs, rather than the pleural lining over the lungs, and result in scarring. This, in turn, limits a lung's ability to expand properly. Medication can occasionally slow the progress of pneumoconiosis, but many individuals, once affected, never regain the full use of their lungs, and lung transplants are the only option.
Asbestosis is a breathing disorder specifically caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, and is usually a cumulative effect, arising after years of exposure. The fibers cause lung scarring, which can gradually restrict breathing to such an extent that patients are unable to walk more than a few feet without stopping, and require constant oxygen. The symptoms, which can range from mild to severe depending on exposure and a person's general stamina, commonly don't appear until years after exposure to asbestos fibers.
The Duke, UNR study demonstrated a statistical risk across the entire spectrum of 2 to 3 percent higher for each year asbestos fibers were inhaled - figures which were more consistent among white males than for any other group surveyed. The second at-risk category was white females, and both groups scored higher in the risk assessment categories than black males, presumably because the latter group saw fewer smokers and workers who occupied different regions of the asbestos textile plants, namely preparation and carding operations, where fibers were shorter than in the spinning and twisting sections where white males generally worked, according to transmission electron microscopy, or TEM, analyses.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations (limiting asbestos to 1 percent of product by weight or volume) have driven the asbestos textile industry overseas. This is good news for American workers, but not so good for workers in places like Korea and Egypt, for example.
Attempts by the United Nations to add asbestos to the list of hazardous substances already on the Rotterdam Convention have been consistently opposed by Canada, which is the world's largest supplier of chrysotile asbestos.