KTBS Interviews Robert Storment with SRP Environmental about asbestos contamination from building demolition

MANSFIELD, La. (KTBS) – A small town in northwest Louisiana, fear they have been failed by a system they trusted when a historic building was torn down, coating downtown Mansfield in dust.

“I didn’t question anybody or the workers just because I just kind of trusted in the system,” Lauri Williamson said. “That it had been tested.”

The big question remains, did that dust carry asbestos and what impact does that have on the community.

Built in 1911 as the First Baptist Church, the massive building on the corner of Jefferson and Polk, served its purpose until 1980.

The church sat vacant for years, even after being purchased by the Calhoun Family in 1982.

Then in 1994, the property was renovated.

“It was apartments,” Reimer Calhoun said. “Thirtyish apartments.”

In 2011 the state fire marshal’s office deemed the structure unsafe and the doors closed for good.

This past summer, the church would undergo one last change, a demolition, with one of three buildings already taken down.

“Well removal and demolition was the only thing we could figure out to do,” Calhoun said.

But the heat and dust made an unbearable mess for neighbors.

“We would have dust that would blow over to my porch and the bushes and stuff,” Williamson, a local business owner said.

“It was mainly the dust that was bothering us,” another shop owner, Elsa Mims, said. “There was just so much dust out there and we were changing filters three times a week.”

Finally, Mims said she could not take it anymore.

“So then we started thinking that something needs to be done about this and so we called DEQ,” Mims said.

Greg Langley with the Department of Environmental Quality told KTBS in an email DEQ responded to citizen complaints in September.

Langley said DEQ issued a notice of deficiency, or request for additional information on the project.

DEQ then tested the property for asbestos and on October 8th, the results of the test came back positive.

Dr. Samer Nachawati is a Pulmonologist at Willis-Knighton.

“Asbestos, basically is a natural, mineral fiber,” Dr. Nachawati said. “It is known for its strength, fire and chemical properties. The badness happens whenever those asbestos bodies mix in with calcium and iron and form what is called the ferruginous body.”

Dr. Nachawati said those bodies are never fully absorbed, instead they build up scar tissue on the lungs, causing fluid to accumulate.

“It can also lead to certain types of cancer,” Dr. Nachawati said. “Mesothelioma is the most associated cancer with asbestos.”

When asked why an inspection was not done before construction started, Calhoun said: “That I do not know.”

Robert Storment is part owner of SRP, an environmental health and safety consulting agency in Shreveport. He said when you are working in an older building you can almost guarantee an encounter with asbestos.

“There is a good chance of it,” Storment said. “Especially buildings that were built pre-1970.”

In fact, he said a law was made to cover this kind of risk.

“There is a federal law called NESHAP that is enforced by the environmental protection agency that requires buildings to have an asbestos survey before they do any demolition or re-modeling,” Storment said.

Contractor for the project, Scott Shelton, declined an interview with KTBS but told us over the phone, asbestos was only found in three places, only two spots have to be abated.

That statement contradicts reports from Langley at DEW who said his department found asbestos in eight places.

Shelton said “we’ve done our side and done it correctly.”

He added that DEQ gave them the go ahead to continue working on the project, but he said he voluntarily shut down work until they could have all asbestos removed from the property.

But DEQ said the salvage work cannot continue until the contractor provides information and a time line on the abatement plan.

“I would be curious as to why anybody is concerned about it,” Calhoun said. “I think Scott Shelton has done an excellent job.”

Dr. Nachawati said the chance of any local business owner getting sick from the traveling dust is slim. He said the greatest risk is for the workers in direct contact, but the effects of asbestos inhalation are not immediate.

“You can see the effects of asbestos 10 years, 20 years, 30 years up to 40 years actually down the line,” Dr. Nachawati said.

For now, both Mims and Williamson agree they would be happy if the project would be completed correctly.

SOURCE: Originally posted on www.ktbs.com.