Developer to Pay Nearly a Half-Million in Asbestos Fines

The developer of a large retail and residential project in Kansas City will have to pay $450,000 in fines for ignoring Missouri asbestos laws during preparation for construction.

The company that plans to develop Citadel Plaza, Community Development Corporation of Kansas City (CDC-KC), reached this settlement agreement with the state earlier this week. According to an article in the Kansas City Star, a portion of the fines will go towards “green initiatives that could turn Citadel Plaza from a contaminated tract into one of the most visionary environmental projects in the city.”

CDC-KC will also undertake other projects, including providing grants to remove asbestos from five inner-city homes.

“This project is going to have environmental benefits that go far beyond the asbestos problem,” said John Fougere, a spokesman for the Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, whose office put the settlement together.

In addition, the company will be required to remove any asbestos that remains at the site. Experts estimate that removal and disposal will cost about $300,000.

According to the article, CDC-KC is the nonprofit developer of the Citadel Plaza, which has already seen its share of financial troubles. This $85 million redevelopment project includes a 35-acre shopping center which will feature a full-service supermarket, restaurants and other retailers.

Though Citadel Plaza has been in the planning stages since the 1990s, construction has yet to begin though CDC-KC keeps announcing new start dates.

In 2006, the developer was accused of tearing down more than 100 homes and burying tons of asbestos-containing materials at the construction site. Asbestos debris was also left lying around the neighborhood, including in spots where children often play.

Philadelphia to Close High School for Massive Asbestos Removal Project

A high school in Philadelphia will stop accepting ninth graders next fall so that the school district can eventually close it for a few years as a massive asbestos removal project and school remodeling begins. The school is expected to be empty by 2010.

According to an article in the Philadelphia Daily News, the school was supposed to undergo major renovations as part of the district’s $1.5 billion, five-year building plan announced in December 2002.

But concerns about asbestos have convinced district officials to phase out the school before it undergoes an 18-month renovation, said Patrick Henwood, the district’s senior vice president for capital programs.

“Our plan is to abate that building when it becomes feasible,” he said. “We’re going to completely renovate it instead of [spending] the original $15 million or $10 million we had allocated for it. We’ll probably wind up spending close to $40 million to renovate it.”

The Philadelphia School District hasn’t had to close an entire school for asbestos removal for more than 20 years. From 1984-1986, it removed students from the Martin Luther King Jr. High School for the same reason.

“The asbestos at University City is not harmful to people because it is not airborne, but is contained in ceiling fireproofing material,” said Henwood, who estimated the removal project won’t begin until 2010 after the final senior class graduates from the school. Henwood strongly believes that the asbestos at University City HS could not be contained safely during renovations, thus the necessity to remove the students.

Teachers have been complaining about the conditions at the school for years. “If they know asbestos is in here and we can die from it, what the hell are we doing in the building?” fumed Barbara Wilf Rose, a math teacher at the school for three years.

“If this was in a suburban area this would not have been allowed. It’s horrendous that they would allow this in the city, endangering our people’s lives,” added Rose, who said that in one classroom a powdery substance was seen floating in the air.

Asbestos Found in United Nations Renovations

Approved recently by the United Nations budget committee is a massive renovation project for the entire United Nations complex in lower Manhattan. Unfortunately however, during preliminary stages of remodeling last month, asbestos has been found in several of the building’s fixtures.

At the time the recognizable post-war colossus of glass and steel was erected, asbestos was used commonly in the construction of most buildings. Especially in areas requiring insulation, asbestos was used frequently to cover piping, electrical, and other insulated fixtures.

Asbestos abatement however, has been complicated on the complex, due its international territory status. City officials have been pressing the General Assembly for the past decade to improve fire and sprinkler systems and protocol, while being met with opposition from those claiming the city has no right to force policy on the territory. In addition the United States regulations on asbestos levels do not necessarily apply to the buildings within the U.N. complex, further complicating the issue

This leaves potentially harmful levels of asbestos still within the complex as the bureaucratic tangle continues. Asbestos has been banned by the U.S. federal government since the late 1970’s because of conclusive links between exposure and respiratory illness, such as the cancer, mesothelioma.

Asbestos Building Demolished by Experimental Method

Despite attempts by environmentalists and concerned citizens to stop the demolition, an asbestos-laden apartment building in Fort Worth, Texas was demolished on Monday, using a newly developed method that some believe is unsafe and causes asbestos fibers to be released into the air.

According to an article in the Star-Telegram, the demolition at the Oak Hollow apartments on the city’s east side was the first test of the new and improved “wet” method in a populated area. Previous tests have been performed at an old military base in Arkansas.

Only one building came down via the new method, explained an EPA spokesman. The remainder of the complex will be demolished using the old method, which involves removing all asbestos before demolition. With the new method, the walls and ceilings are saturated with special foam and the building is torn down without first removing the asbestos.

A spokesman for a national environmental group called the test “the height of irresponsibility,” but a City Council member defended it despite the protests of many residents who believed their neighborhood was chosen due to its large minority population.

“The tests have been done a couple of times before. If they didn’t feel, from those tests, it was safe to bring into a populated area, they wouldn’t be here,” said City Councilman Danny Scarth, whose district includes the building.

The demolition crews will also remove about 3 inches of dirt to catch any fibers that may have soaked into the ground. It would have taken a specially trained crew two days just to remove the asbestos under the old method, said EPA project manager Adele Cardenas Malott.

Terry Lynch, the health hazard administrator for the national asbestos workers union, said there’s no way to know whether any asbestos was released.

Parents Won’t Send Kids Back to Asbestos-Laden School

Parents who pulled their kids out of an asbestos-filled elementary school in Montreal say they’re not sending them back again until the school gets a clean bill of health from air quality inspectors.

According to an article in the Montreal Gazette, the latest air quality tests showing asbestos dust in Greenfield Park International elementary school confirms their fears, parents told the media.

“Unless results are negative (for asbestos), I am not sending my kids back. That’s true for other parents [as well],” said Jacinthe Bouchard, who kept her two daughters home last week and has no intention of sending them back at this time.

Before the air quality tests were performed, about 20 Greenfield Park parents told school officials that their kids were constantly sick during the week, but not on the weekends. Most suffered with symptoms such as nausea, stomach cramps, and severe headaches. The parents banned together and decided that asbestos might be the cause.

Dr. Jocelyne Sauvé, director of public health at the Montérégie health and social services agency, said her agency is looking into the situation at the school.

Quebec’s Workplace Health and Safety Board ordered tests for asbestos contamination after the complaints were lodged. Levels of airborne asbestos were found to be lower than normal, board spokesperson Alexandra Reny said.

Nonetheless, the board closed the affected areas and demanded they be decontaminated by a specialized firm. The school is expected to reopen sometime this week.

New Maryland Asbestos Rules Could Be A Burden

In accordance with new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, school officials in Maryland fear that they may need to test every pipe, tile, and wall put into the state’s school buildings.

According to an article in the Daily Times, state schools have relied in the past on material safety data sheets that are supplied by manufacturers in order to determine if hazardous materials, including asbestos, are in the products they are buying.

But now the EPA says it never accepted the manufacturer’s data sheets as proof of the presence of asbestos, and that they would also not be accepted in the future. Schools say that requiring them, instead of the manufacturer, to determine whether or not a product contains asbestos is an unfair burden that would be impossible to meet.

“The EPA doesn’t go after the manufacturer,” said Ray Prokop, director of facilities for Carroll County Public Schools. “The schools are the ones paying the fines and required to do the policing.

“Just imagine, everything that goes into our schools we have to test and somehow verify,” Prokop said.

According to the article, the EPA said schools can test all the materials they use, but they can also choose not to, if they prefer. “If schools do not test all new building materials for asbestos, they either need a manufacturer’s letter certifying the product is asbestos-free or they must assume that the materials contain the dangerous fiber,” EPA spokesperson Donna Heron explained.

“The practical reality of it is that if they assume that it contains asbestos, all they are really required to do is to note that in their management plan,” Heron said.

But school officials say that untested materials noted in asbestos management plans are unlikely to contain the carcinogen, but listing them as such would greatly complicate any repairs and renovations that may have to be made.

“If you assume there is asbestos, the smallest repair you make, you have to either abate asbestos, which might not be there, or you might have to set up very involved protection,” said David Lever, director of Maryland’s public school construction program.

“The new structure, which does not allow for MSDS sheets, has huge consequences on school systems and buildings,” Lever said.

Britain’s Teachers Rally for Removal of Asbestos in Schools

Great Britain’s National Union of Teachers (NUT) is speaking out on the risks associated with asbestos in the schools there and is calling for the hazardous material to be removed from all school buildings.

According to an article in Herts 24, a regional newspaper, NUT recently released guidelines which state that “the risks in schools are clear.”

“Poor structural maintenance and vandalism make schools more vulnerable than other buildings to the risk of release of asbestos fibers.”

“NUT members have died from mesothelioma. In many respects, children are more at risk,” the statement suggests. “Given their age and the long latency periods associated with asbestos cancers, they are potentially at greater risk of developing an asbestos-related disease later in life.”

The guidelines also say: “NUT policy is that all asbestos should be removed from schools wherever it is found and whatever its form, unless this is completely impracticable. Only complete removal will help to ensure health and safety in schools.”

“A few years ago southern Ireland took the decision to remove all asbestos from their schools because of the particular vulnerability of children, and that process is just about completed. Yet our government even refuses to assess the full scale of the problem and advocates that it is safer to manage asbestos than remove it,” says Michael Lees, whose wife – a 30-year veteran of the public schools – died of mesothelioma in 2000 at age 51.

Asbestos exposure in the schools is usually caused by teachers sticking pins or thumbtacks into walls and ceilings to hang papers or art projects. Many teachers note that school vandalism has also contributed to the destruction of asbestos materials which, subsequently, release fibers into the air. Thus far, no students have suffered the ill effects of asbestos exposure.

India Says Canadian Asbestos Killing its Workers

A statement released this week by a number of medical experts in New Delhi, India stated that “Canada’s export of chrysotile asbestos to developing countries is ‘criminal’ and is killing workers in India.”

An article in the Winnipeg (Canada) Free Press cites a statement by Dr. T.K. Joshi, head of India’s occupational and environmental department, which said that “at least 100,000 factory workers and millions of construction workers across India inhale chrysotile asbestos every day.”

Canadian chrysotile asbestos accounts for one-third of all the asbestos in India and is used to make a variety of household and construction products. The rest is imported from Zimbabwe, Russia and Kazakhstan.

The fact that Indian companies do not uphold labor laws compounds the problem, says Joshi, as employees often work with the hazardous material without benefit of face masks and other protective measures.

Joshi’s statement was made at a three-day healthy-workplace seminar in New Delhi this week, attended by about 75 doctors from across the country, many of whom have seen multiple cases of asbestos-related disease among their patients. Joshi said the idea is to educate more physicians about the serious health threat from asbestos and pressure the governments of India and Canada to ban the material.

Joshi fails to understand why Canada persists in mining and exporting the hazardous mineral. “The most baffling thing is there’s really very little economic (benefit) associated with asbestos production in Canada, so why should it induce misery in other parts of the world?” Joshi asked.
“It would be far better if the Canadian government not only stops the export of asbestos, but joins hands with us to stop the use of asbestos everywhere.”
The Canadian chrysotile industry, of course, disagrees. A spokesman for Natural Resources Canada said that “Canada believes that a general ban on chrysotile would drive countries from a useful product whose risks are well known and can be managed through controlled use, to substitutes that can be poorly regulated. Chrysotile can provide cost-effective products to developing countries.”

However, some Canadians also recognize the ill effects of asbestos and are rallying for a ban, including MP Pat Martin of Winnipeg.

“[Asbestos] is perhaps our greatest shame internationally,” Martin said. “Most developed nations have banned asbestos in all its forms, yet we continue to seek out new markets in developing nations and Third World countries where health and safety rules are non-existent or not enforced.”

Woman Diagnosed with Mesothelioma is Pregnant

A woman from Adelaide, Australia who was diagnosed with mesothelioma a decade ago is now pregnant with her second child.

According to an article in The World Today, 39-year-old Belinda Dunn took part in a gene therapy trial soon after she received the news she had mesothelioma ten years ago and is now expecting. Doctors are baffled both by her survival rate and her pregnancy.

Dunn just feels thankful. When she was diagnosed 10 years ago, doctors told her she’d be dead within a year. Dunn believes her survival is attributed not only to the gene therapy, which she received in the United States, but also the other little things she does in an attempt to stay healthy.

“I’ve taken lots and lots of vitamins at the time of – under the guidance of my naturopath – with the gene therapy trial, and I’m just wondering if it was because my immune system was in good shape when I had the trial that perhaps that’s helped it,” Dunn said.

But Professor Doug Henderson of Flinders Medical Center, the doctor who diagnosed Dunn, says that her recovery “cannot be explained by science, and therefore has little significance at this stage for other sufferers.”

”I have seen other rare cases of mesothelioma that have gone into apparently spontaneous complete remission and one patient whom I remember very vividly was alive with a completely normal chest X-ray and otherwise well, eight years after the diagnosis had been made,” he added.

“We don’t know the reasons for spontaneous regression like this in tumors. It might be due to some altered cellular dynamics within the tumor itself, but why that should happen we really have no clear idea,” he explained

The other theory is that the immune system of a body somehow gains a boost and gains ascendancy over the tumor and puts it into remission, the article noted

In the meantime, Dunn’s pregnancy is progressing without complication and she hopes her case is giving hope to others with this normally-aggressive, hard-to-treat disease.

Lower Manhattan Dust Samples Still Testing Positive for Harmful Levels of Asbestos

In an ongoing study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, the dust of lower Manhattan is being monitored for asbestos following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. The area within 1,500 feet of Ground Zero is being closely monitored for asbestos and other toxin levels.

In a November sampling recently released by the agency, at least three dust samples contained levels of asbestos exceeding federal standards. Any sample testing above federal standards indicates levels of asbestos that pose a risk for exposure to residents and visitors to the area. While three samples may not seem significant, the population density of the area would indicate this to be a dangerous revelation, particularly when considering how many more samples may test positive in the area.

EPA officials estimate that the World Trade Center towers contained as much as 300 tons of asbestos, nearly all of which was released into the air when the towers collapsed following the attacks. Asbestos causes respiratory conditions such as mesothelioma, a disease one 9/11 first responder has already died of and many others may contract in the coming years.

New York City officials have indicated that any positive sample will be dealt with through a professional abatement firm at no cost to residents.