The Florida Department of Environmental Protection will test concrete samples taken from a road near Fort Myers to determine if it contains asbestos. DEP investigators took the samples from a section of Summerlin Road near the south end of the city where workers were engaged in a project to widen a section of the street. A spokesman for the department said that they expect the test results to be available by early next week.
The director of the agency's office in Fort Myers, Jon Iglehart, said that the parties responsible for furnishing the asbestos-laced concrete could face fines of up to $10,000 if the samples show that more than two hundred sixty feet of asbestos fibers. The affected material must also be transported to a safe landfill and disposed of according to strict federal and state regulations regarding asbestos removal and remediation.
The investigation has forced work to stop on the intersection of Summerlin Road and College Parkway. Road crews were also in the process of building an overpass in that area, but work has also halted on that project pending the results of the tests. Officials with both the DEP and the Lee County Department of Transportation are unsure as to the origin of the tainted materials.
The construction firm responsible for the project, Posen Construction of Shelby Township, Michigan, near Detroit, did not comment on the findings. However, DEP officials have cited the company for asbestos violations during previous projects in the Fort Myers area. Posen Construction received a $6,500 fine from the DEP in January 2008 when investigators found more than a thousand linear feet of asbestos in their materials during another road widening project.
Until these most recent discoveries, Posen Construction has worked on several road construction and improvement projects in Lee County. The most recent project involved widening Summerlin Road from four lanes to six, with the contract estimated to be worth more than twenty-five million dollars. The project for which the firm was fined last year was worth over fifteen million dollars, with another effort to extend a local highway worth nearly thirty million more.
If the samples from the Summerlin Road site are found to have excessive levels of asbestos, Posen Construction may lose out on any future contracts with Lee County. Despite the fact that the county has been one of the firm's best customers over the years, Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah pledged that, "Posen will never work for (us) again" if the samples did not pass the required tests.
Mr. Iglehart added that the frequency that workers are finding asbestos-containing materials in concrete and other road-building materials has been increasing in recent years. He noted that concrete laced with asbestos has a "different finish" and is more compact than the standard material. He said that he and his staff take the threat of asbestos seriously due to the deadly nature of the fibrous material.
As long as the asbestos stays within the bindings of the concrete, it does not pose a health risk. However, as the concrete fragments are broken up, the asbestos fibers are released into the air. When a person breathes those fibers, they become embedded in the lung tissue and the person can develop mesothelioma, a rare and dangerous form of cancer that affects the fluid lining of the lungs. Most patients live less than two years after receiving their diagnosis.