Plans to convert the Ocean Downs horse racing facility in Maryland into a slot machine parlor were put on hold after work crews discovered asbestos in the track's grandstands. The track's owner, William Rickman, Jr., sent a letter to Maryland Video Lottery Location Commission Chairman Donald Fry stating that, among other structural problems, workers found samples of asbestos in nearly every part of the old grandstands.
According to the letter, the levels of asbestos the crews found were "substantial". One major source of the asbestos appears to be several roofing panels, covered with galvanized paint, which disguised the presence of the dangerous substance. The site was constructed just after World War II, when asbestos use was widespread in the construction industry and valued for its usefulness as fireproofing and insulation material.
The demolition project on the site, which was already underway before the discovery, was stopped when inspectors found the asbestos. The contractors, the owners and government officials have yet to reach an agreement as to how to continue with the dismantling of the stands. Mr. Rickman's letter says that the architect of the proposed new facility and the structural engineer are working on a potential solution that would allow for the asbestos removal while still staying close to the original designs.
Before the asbestos discovery, Mr. Rickman's plans were to open the new slot machine parlor on Memorial Day Weekend 2010. The new facility was to offer six hundred slot machines, with plans for another two hundred within the following twelve months. Ocean Downs was one of the first five businesses to be granted slot machine licenses by the state after lawmakers approved the measure to allow for these types of games and began issuing licenses in September. While Mr. Rickman has not yet announced plans to scrap the Memorial Day opening, observers have noted that, with the extensive problems facing the project, the opening day for the area's first slots casino may be severely delayed.
In addition to the asbestos issues, the site has also encountered problems with the structural steel used to support the grandstands and how it can be incorporated into the new design. Since the steel is more than sixty years old, Mr. Rickman informed the commission, he has sent samples to be tested for structural integrity and compatibility with any new steel that crews need to weld onto the existing portions. Crews also found an abundance of lead paint in many parts of the grandstands, which pose another hazard to worker safety.
In order to comply with state and federal regulations involving both environmental safety and worker protection, asbestos abatement workers will have to carry out strict procedures when handling the asbestos, which poses a severe health hazard when its fibers become airborne, and contractors must provide protective clothing and special breathing masks to reduce the workers' risk of exposure.
Workers who inhale asbestos fibers have been known to contract pleural mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer that attacks the fluid linings of the lungs. Patients typically exhibit symptoms years after the initial exposure period, but by that time, the disease is often too far advanced to treat adequately. A patient who receives a mesothelioma diagnosis usually lives less than eighteen months after the disease is detected.