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.

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