Asbestos Temporarily Closes Road

Part of Interstate 75 in Plano, Texas will be closed this week as two contractors work to remove asbestos-laden paint from overpasses that stretch above the busy highway.

According to an article in Pegasus News, the Texas Department of Transportation will intermittently close two lanes at a time on US 75 at Parker Road in Plano beginning on or about April 1. The department notes that they will be performing the maintenance work during less busy times, namely between the hours of 8 pm and 4:30 pm, when traffic is minimal.

“Performing asbestos removal requires extra safety precautions and is highly dependent on weather conditions,” the article notes. “For this reason, contractors will not be allowed to perform work if winds exceed 25 miles per hour or if forecasts indicate a high chance for rain. To ensure public safety, work will be performed using a chemical application versus the traditional sandblasting method, and crews will monitor air quality in and around the work zone.”

“The actual lane closures should only take about six days; however, due to the unpredictability of the weather, the project may not be completed for several weeks,” said TxDOT Collin County Area Engineer Ron Johnston, who notes that lanes will be closed two at a time until the overpass has been painted in its entirety.

New Report Outlines Approach to Treating Peritoneal Mesothelioma

In the February 2008 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers from Columbia University reported that combined resection, intraperitoneal chemotherapy, and whole abdominal radiation therapy has shown to be an effective treatment for malignant peritoneal mesothelioma.

Peritoneal mesothelioma accounts for less than 20 percent of all mesothelioma cases and its latency period is even longer than the average 20 – 40 years for those developing the more common pleural mesothelioma. Currently, notes an article on, controlled clinical trials of various treatment options are not available for peritoneal mesothelioma due to the relative rarity of this disease.

The Columbia University study involved 27 patients who had been diagnosed with malignant peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the abdomen. The treatment regimen involved surgical debulking followed by four intraperitoneal courses of cisplatin alternated with four intraperitoneal courses of doxorubicin, four doses of intraperitoneal gamma interferon, a second laparotomy with resection of residual disease plus intraoperative hyperthermic administration of intraperitoneal mitomycin, and cisplatin followed by whole abdominal radiation therapy.

The authors of the study reported a median survival of 70 months and a three-year survival of 67 percent. They also reported that seven patients were alive without evidence of disease at a median of 17 months. The results prompted the researchers to conclude that intensive multimodality therapy was effective for patients with peritoneal mesothelioma.

Asbestos Closes Myrtle Beach Grocery Store

A Food Lion store in the popular tourist town of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was closed yesterday after the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Controls (DHEC) determined that asbestos dust may have been released during a renovation project.

According to an article posted on South Carolina Now, officials say that anyone who was in the store between Feb. 18 and March 25 may have been affected.

“A contractor began removing floor tiles last month with a process that is suspected to have released asbestos fibers from the mastic used to secure those tiles,” said Myra Reece, chief of DHEC’s Bureau of Air Quality in a new released issued Wednesday by DHEC. “The process that was used should have been done in a manner that limits the amount of asbestos released into the air, thus protecting the workers, store employees and customers.”

“Our concern is that people who were in the store during this time may have breathed in asbestos fibers or purchased food products that may have asbestos-containing dust on them,” Reece added. “While air samples in the store during the project showed no asbestos, other DHEC samples on store surfaces found evidence of chrysotile, an asbestos mineral.”

Erik R. Svendsen, PhD, the DHEC’s state environmental epidemiologist believes that even for those who frequented the store between the two dates in question, exposure risk would have been minimal. However, he notes that for those with further concerns, the DHEC has prepared a fact sheet with answers to questions customers may have about the issue and what to do with food items purchased from the store between Feb. 18 and March 25. That information can be found at DHEC’s Web site at

Elderly Residents Want Asbestos-Tainted Belongings Back

The mayor of Houston told residents of a senior housing community, which suffered a fire in November, that he believes they should be able to retrieve their belongings from their damaged apartments as long as they don’t hold the Houston Housing Authority responsible for damages, even though many of the items are covered with thick asbestos dust.

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, Mayor Bill White told residents of the Bellerive Apartments on Tuesday that City Attorney Arturo Michel would consult with the housing authority’s attorneys to draft a legal waiver that tenants could sign to get their belongings back.

Kim Szeto, a leader of a social service agency working with the Bellerive tenants, said she believes that the dust won’t be a deterrent and that most of them would be willing to sign the waiver just to be able to get their treasured belongings back into their possession. The authority says items in 61 of the project’s 210 apartments are potentially contaminated with asbestos.

Residents say they don’t have the estimated $3,400 it would cost to remove asbestos fibers from clothing and furniture, as the housing authority says is necessary before they can be returned. However, Mayor White urged the housing authority not to destroy tenants’ belongings until the city has time to work with the agency to find a solution. He said it was “pretty intrusive” for a government agency to prevent anyone from recovering personal items from the scene of a fire.

Joe Rafferty, the president and owner of DSM Environmental Services, told the housing authority that he believes only two units need to undergo the expensive cleaning. But the agency disagrees with Rafferty’s assessment, noting that exposure to any level of asbestos is hazardous.

Asbestos Halts Work at Power Plant

The installation of pollution controls at Mirant’s Morgantown (Md.) Power Plant had to be temporarily halted last week due to the presence of asbestos.

According to an article in the Washington Post, already-present asbestos materials may have been disturbed during the installation process, causing an immediate work stoppage until levels of the hazardous fibers could be checked.

“The construction to install the Selective Catalytic Reduction System, which is a pollution control technology, was temporarily halted due to a potential concern of asbestos in the construction work area,” said Misty Allen, a Mirant spokeswoman.

“Once we brought in the equipment to do the testing and analysis, all the testing results came back favorable and well below any limits that would have triggered concern or additional required action,” she added.

Allen notes that the asbestos in question served as insulation for an industrial fan. Though it was clearly marked, a contractor broke a barrier that surrounded it, causing damage to the material. Contract workers were immediately evacuated and a third party was brought in to properly remove the asbestos.

Some of the contractors were concerned about exposure during this incident and throughout the three weeks they’ve been working at the plant. Power plants once made widespread use of asbestos for thermal insulation purposes.

“I don’t think it was a big contamination, but it could be,” said one worker from Kentucky, who added that workers told their superiors twice, on different days, that the barrier had been disrupted before testing was done. “Somebody needs to complain because people go home to their families after they work,” he said.

An official complaint has now been filed with the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health division with the state labor department, said Rhonda Wardlaw, a spokeswoman for the agency. Nevertheless, some workers continue to express dismay about the incident.

“Asbestos ain’t nothing to play with,” said one worker. He and others who commented asked not to be named for fear of job repercussions.

Asbestos Cover-Up Destroying School

Attempts to cover up a costly asbestos problem is leading to the demise of a small northern California Christian school, say those closest to the situation.

According to an article in the Record, the discovery of asbestos on President’s Day weekend in February at the Mokelumne River School has resulted in “declining enrollment, infighting on the board of trustees, the firing of a principal and worries that the 35-year-old institution may not survive.”

The article notes that since the asbestos incident, more than 20 percent of the school’s students have been removed by their parents and more are expected to follow. In addition, four board members have been removed from their seats by the board president, a handful of teachers have resigned, and the school’s K-8 principal Nadine Zerbe has been fired.

A parents’ organization, led by Gary Silva and Kevin Schwemley, blames the rapid deterioration of the school on school founder Clifford Goehring’s attempts to cover up the asbestos discovery to avoid paying what has been estimated at $50,000 in clean-up costs.

“I deny those allegations,” Goehring said. “We’re doing everything we can to clean up. I did make some missteps, and if I could do it over, I would do things differently. I have some regrets. Now, I want to regroup and move on.”

Asbestos tiles were exposed when Goehring and a number of volunteers were pulling down tiles in the school’s breezeway. Volunteers left the tiles exposed, unaware that they were bound in asbestos.

Days later, Shane Jones, an asbestos expert who is also the parent of a Mokelumne River student, tested the materials for asbestos. The results were positive so Jones advised the principal to evacuate the school.

“He told me to keep quiet, and he wanted my son to lie about it,” Jones said. “That’s what bothers me so much. It’s the ethics of it.”

According to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District compliance manager John Cadrett, the school did test positive for asbestos, but nobody at the school was in danger because the asbestos was found in a non-friable state.

Still, parents are angry at how the situation was handled. “I can deal with a lot of things,” parent Tammy Johnson said. “But when someone has that type of disregard for my child’s safety, I don’t tolerate it.”

Asbestos Closes Staten Island High School

A Department of Education spokesperson announced that Staten Island’s New Dorp High School would be temporarily closing its doors for asbestos abatement, but parents, students, and faculty shouldn’t worry, she added.

“Whenever we do any kind of renovation, there’s always some type of asbestos abatement to ensure that every safety method is followed,” said Marge Feinberg in an article in the Staten Island Advance, noting that she was unsure of the type of renovation the high school plans on doing.

“It’s not clear if there really is asbestos,” said Ms. Feinberg, who added that if the toxic mineral is indeed present, it’s likely embedded in the floor, is not exposed, and does not present a danger in its current state. “They’re just following all asbestos abatement regulations, just as a precaution,” she explained.

Feinberg also added that the work would be performed by a state licensed asbestos abatement team that is well-versed in all the particulars of asbestos removal and knows what precautions to take to ensure safe removal.

Feinberg said the School Construction Authority for the district would be monitoring the abatement and any subsequent repairs. “Although class is dismissed due to Easter break, students and faculty will not be able to enter the high school beginning Friday at 7 a.m.,” Feinberg explained. The precautionary abatement process will conclude the following day. The athletic field will not be affected and if all goes as planned, classes will resume on Monday.

President of Asbestos School Indicted

The president of a Methuen, Mass. asbestos abatement school that granted scores of certificates to illegal immigrants, allowing them to become asbestos workers and supervisors, has been indicted in U.S. District Court.

According to an article in South Coast Today, Albania Deleon was first indicted last August for submitting fraudulent documents to the Massachusetts Division of Occupational Safety. She was charged this week in a superseding indictment with one count of conspiracy to make false statements, encourage illegal aliens to reside in the United States and to hire illegal aliens.

According to federal affidavits, Ms. Deleon “routinely issued asbestos certificates to people who did not attend required training courses or pass the test.” She allegedly arranged for them to receive fraudulent certificates in exchange for paying a $400 fee. The regular cost of the course and exams was $350.

Prosecutors have noted that several of those who received the fraudulent certificates were illegal immigrants from New Bedford. They worked across Massachusetts at demolition and construction sites, overseeing asbestos removal, the article notes.

Many of the untrained certificate recipients were directed to work for Methuen Staffing, Ms. Deleon’s temporary services company that specialized in asbestos removal, court records said.

The alleged scheme enabled Ms. Deleon to save over $1 million in tax and insurance payments while placing unskilled and untrained workers in the asbestos abatement field, court records said.

If convicted, Ms. Deleon faces up to five years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

WR Grace Agrees to $250 Million Settlement

In a settlement announced on Tuesday, W.R. Grace and Company has agreed to pay the federal government $250 million for environmental cleanup around its mining operations in Libby, Mont.

According to an article in the New York Times, this is the largest payment ever ordered under the Superfund program, which identifies and cleans up areas that are contaminated with dangerous toxic waste.

The article notes that “the settlement requires the approval of a federal judge overseeing the company’s bankruptcy proceedings and does not resolve a separate criminal case in Montana also arising from Grace’s alleged asbestos contamination of Libby.”

To date, hundreds of workers who toiled at W.R. Grace’s vermiculite mine in the small central Montana town have died of asbestos-related diseases as have many community members.

A Grace spokesman, Greg Euston, said the company was pleased with the settlement but that he could not comment further on orders of the judge in the criminal matter.

Though the company filed for bankruptcy in 2001, extensive clean-up was already under way in 2000. Three years later, in 2003, a Montana federal court ordered Grace to pay $54 million to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for investigation and cleanup costs incurred to that point, but the money has not been paid because of the bankruptcy proceeding.

The article explains that the settlement announced on Tuesday takes into account that previous payment and specifies that future payments be directed to a special EPA account to be used to clean schools, homes and businesses in Libby that are contaminated with asbestos dust, which is known to cause cancer and other pulmonary diseases.

More Asbestos Fears at Chicago Beach

A scientist from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that Chicago’s Oak Street Beach needs to be retested for asbestos because tests weren’t done properly the first time.

According to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, University of Illinois scientists first found asbestos on this popular Chicago urban beach in 2004, when they tested 12 samples and came up with 11 that were positive for asbestos. The scientists also noted that the type of asbestos fibers found in the sand at Oak Street Beach was amphibole, the deadliest type of the hazardous mineral.

After that, the Chicago Park District ordered new tests and these found only extremely low levels. At that point, residents were told that Oak Street Beach, which attracts hundreds of thousands of beachgoers every summer, was safe.

But EPA scientist James Webber, who teaches at the State University of New York in Albany, and the members of the Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society doubt the veracity of those tests and are demanding that a new batch of tests be performed at the beach.

Both Weber and the watchdog agency believe the tests were performed improperly. Webber explains that during testing, the air-filter pumps used by the company hired by the park district became clogged and inoperable. So the company switched to air filters that wouldn’t clog so easily – but which, as a result, might not be sensitive enough to detect most asbestos, according to Webber.

Jeff Camplin, an asbestos consultant with the Dunesland Preservation Society, agrees: “They just made the filters larger, therefore trapping less asbestos and therefore identifying that there would be less of an airborne hazard.”

The company that performed the tests has also been called into question. That company, Levine Fricke, is a consultant to manufacturer Johns Manville, whose closed Waukegan plant, now an EPA Superfund site, has been described by the Illinois attorney general’s office as “a potential source of asbestos pollution in Lake Michigan.”

Both the Park District and Levine Fricke have refused to comment on the request for retesting.