“The asbestos is only in the floor tile, used for insulation from the radiant heat.”
“They only put those asbestos stickers on those houses to keep people out.”
“Those early asbestos testing crews are a joke. They’re just getting paid to raid the houses.”
I heard it all, but it all sounded so reassuring… that there was little to no asbestos blowing around in Carrollton and I was fairly safe wandering around the homes of Carrollton taking pictures.
Then, work completely stopped in Carrollton from March 08 until late November 08. When work began, they started a labor-intensive stripping down of the homes along Pont Ave. to the wood 2×4 studs. This was done painstakingly slow, home by home, one at a time. Only 6 houses were cleared down to the studs in this fashion eating much of the time in the last three weeks. Houses were sealed in plastic and taped off in every possible air duct to the outside world. Workers wore an incredible amount of protective gear. The amount of plastic used made these homes appear scarier than the house at the end of E.T.
The problem is, I went through every one of those houses without my own spacewoman suit, without any plastic coating and masks, taking my photos as they were. I didn’t linger long inside any one place, but why didn’t Lambert do this kind of clean asbestos removal before if the problem is so bad? None of the other houses had this kind of intense asbestos removal, but now that Lambert lost a lawsuit, they are suddenly concerned for the environment and people around the buildings?
So the two big questions now are:
- Why were the houses left completely unlocked, open and vacant for years with so many people hanging out, playing around when there is a potential for danger?
- So what is going to happen to all those demolition workers, the vandals, the curious onlookers like me who were near those houses in disrepair with no protection?
I stood outside my own home’s demolition and breathed in the dust of my bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and more. Later, I photographed and filmed a number of demolitions in the neighborhood. Is it going to kill me? What about the workers? What about my friends of Jones’ Demolition? Those poor guys didn’t have much protection and they took down probably over a third of Carrollton. Those gentlemen told me that Carrollton is where they spent the better part of their days for the past 15 years. When they were taking down the houses, they were told to use water to keep the dust down. I’m not exactly sure if they were told exactly what was in that dust that was needed to be watered down. They didn’t wear respirators when I saw them working. What will happen to them? Why now is asbestos only now a major problem when EVERY home in Carrollton was built by Fischer and Frichtel at the same time with the same materials, and nothing was done to contain it for FIFTEEN YEARS?
First, let me explain the demolition process that has been carried out for years in Carrollton. At first, they would just demolish the buildings using the hook and arm of the wrecker. Pretty effective, but also very dusty. At some point (and I am still researching this… any help?) they were told to demolish the homes under the wet method to keep dust down. Evidently, as I just found out, this was done to keep asbestos dust from being airborne. This is the first that I had heard there was any asbestos at all in the houses. Using a fire hose, the demolition crew would demolish while a home was being sprayed down (see the pic of my house above).
However, and rightfully so, neighbors were still worried that the wet method was not good enough as dust was still being kicked up in the air. These neighbors knew that the dust contained harmful asbestos. A handful of residents sued, and only those remaining houses (not including the ones that have also burned to the ground) were not demolished because they were tied up in court from this lawsuit. The Great Rivers Environmental Law Center represented the concerned residents. They won the case this fall, and now the asbestos has to be stripped from the homes using stricter federal guidelines. Click here for a link to the press release.
From the Great Rivers Fall 2008 Reporter:
Federal Court Holds that the City of St. Louis and the City-Owned Lambert St. Louis International Airport violated asbestos standards when they demolished buildings to make way for new runway. “The defendants’ use of the wet demolition method to demolish structurally sound buildings violated the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Pollutants (NESHAP)… Defendants are liable for 99 violations of the asbestos NESHAP.
Also from the article,
Co-counsel Jim Hecker, Environment Enforcement Director of Public Justice of Washington, D.C., said, “This is the first time a federal court has held a city liable for violating federal asbestos safety standards. Its outrageous that public health officials risked exposing an entire community to asbestos, just so the city and the airport authority could save money by using a cheaper asbestos removal method.”
Instead of removing all the asbestos from buildings before they were demolished, as federal NESHAP regulations under the Clean Air Act require, the airport authority left much of the asbestos in place and merely wet it down during demolition.
Kathleen Henry, the President of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, and an extremely wonderful and helpful individual whom I have been contacted by and continue to discuss these issues with, has this to say in the article,
In the wet method (of demolition), a building is demolished with asbestos left in place. The case has national significance as other cities had been considering using the wet method of removing asbestos but may now consider otherwise.
The last, probably most disturbing comment from the article is a quote from former Carrollton resident Carole Donnelly who is also a member of FACTS (Families for Asbestos Compliance, Testing and Safety).
I am outraged that nobody told me that his method is illegal and that required steps to protect my health were ignored.
Ok, so now I am scared about this asbestos, something I did not even think existed in my home. The crazy thing is, the “Danger: Asbestos” tags did not show up on the houses in Carrollton until March of 2008, at the beginning of the demolition freeze. Many of us regarded these tags as being there to scare off people, and scoffed at how a sticker is not going to keep someone out of an unlocked building in an unpatrolled and unsecured former neighborhood. And it obviously didn’t work as we saw this past summer an massive influx of graffiti, damage, and vandalism inside the vacant homes as well as leftovers from teenage hideaway partying, transient behaviors, and, ultimately, the fires that destroyed so many. A simple tag did not keep out the seedy people and the curious away from the dangers.
In 2006, shortly before my home was destroyed, I went back into my house after it was turned over to the airport. I had my key which still worked in the doorknob, but I didn’t really need it anyway- they left the front door unlocked. They had knocked holes in some of the walls, and sprayed blue liquid over many others. You do not know surrealism until you walk around in a place that was home for so many years and see the walls covered in blue dripping liquid and gaping holes, seeing through walls which for years you knew to be rock solid. The time I spent that day in my own home was the longest I ever had stayed in any of the abandoned houses. I photographed and videotaped every room in the house, and refuse to post them… its just too weird to me to see them. It was just too weird to be there that day, but I was drawn in. One hour? Two maybe I was there? I laid in the very spot my bed was, if only for a moment, to imagine that everything was still right in the world. It only lasted for a moment.
I later figured out that the blue liquid was spray adhesive. It took me two years to figure out why they sprayed adhesives around the abandoned houses. From what I gather, it was a cheap way to keep some of the asbestos down during demolitions. It was what the original ‘asbestos crews’ did, before the legal ones came in.
So the asbestos crews now are preparing the houses for a legal demolition, with no potential for airborne asbestos. The process appears to be as follows. If anyone has any information on asbestos clean-up that they want to contribute, please step in. I am going on what I have observed in the last three weeks on Pont and Gladwyn Aves.
- The houses are stripped of ANY accessory, leaving only the walls, flooring and fireplaces behind. Paneling, cabinetry, carpeting, sinks, blinds, any object remaining from the predecessors whatsoever has been tossed into the home’s yard. The front windows have been opened up by the frames to give the asbestos trucks some clearance.
- The asbestos dumpsters are dropped off and the taping/sheeting process begins. Every vent, hole, window, door, everything exposed to the outside is taped off and plastic wrapped. The house is connected to the asbestos dumpster.
- Some types of machinery and water tanks are unloaded. I have no idea how this equipment is used, but somehow it is used in the process. I’ve never been able to see inside once a house has been taped off (and frankly didn’t want to get too close either).
- EVERY bit of drywall, ceiling tile and some cases, floor tile is removed from the house.
- Water is then sprayed inside the house thoroughly to wash out any remaining fibers.
- The house is left with all its contents in the yard. The interior is left with only a network of exposed 2x4s, finally ready for traditional demolition.
I have been told that this process costs over $10,000-$20,000 per building. It takes almost an entire week to clear out one house and I am assuming the need for additional permits. Each demolition already needs worker permits, clearance from every utility, payment to the demolition company, scheduling, city and county inspectors, etc. To add this kind of labor-intensive work to what Lambert went through just to clear 2000 buildings in 15 years would have stretched the budget and time for this project to astronomical proportions. So in other words, in order to do the project within the century, they decided to try out a new method of containing the asbestos (water method) which was quick (one day and a house was gone!) cheap (at least $10 K per house less!) and the courts couldn’t do jack to stop them until it was already well too late. It all makes perfect, evil sense. This is Lambert and the officials from the City of St. Louis against a small municipality we are talking here. Who did you expect to win? Here’s a Post-Dispatch article from 2004 discussing the problems with the wet method and the EPA’s response.
Use of the wet method is permitted under certain circumstances, few of which were met during the airport project.
Yet officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the controversial method last spring when they belatedly discovered that airport officials had been using it since 2000.
I have not been able to find out if Fischer and Frictel, the builders of Carrollton knew how much asbestos went into the construction of their buildings. One person who contacted me some time ago told me that the plans for Carrollton have all but been destroyed and certainly not available for public use. This is something I am still researching, with little luck.
I have, however, found much information about asbestos in general, which has made me sigh some relief. Asbestos is only known to cause cancer and disease in individuals who are occupationally exposed to the fibrous substance (work with it on a daily basis). Those who receive little doses of asbestos over short periods of time or those with a heavy dose in only a brief period are unlikely to have illness from it. Asbestos also does not cause symptoms for many years, perhaps decades. Japan has only just banned the substance, which does occur naturally in the environment. A majority of the counties in California has naturally occurring asbestos in the mineral deposits. Asbestos poses a danger once disturbed and has become airborne. Once used as an insulating and fire-retardant ingredient, the common uses for asbestos includes insulation around the home pipe systems, mixed in with joint compound for added strength, and used in the manufacture of ceiling tiles, among other uses. Asbestos is banned by the federal government as a building material (since the 1970s I think), and existing asbestos is regulated by National Emission Standards for Hazardous Pollutants.
Given these facts, I feel a little more comfortable about my health. I do feel uneasy that the entire buyout and demolition process has been ignoring federal standards regarding safe asbestos removal, for the environment and for the health of the people who waited behind. We all probably have a higher dose of asbestos than the average person. Whether or not its lethal will remain to be seen. Nevertheless, I do not believe I have too much to worry about in regards to my own health and asbestos, mainly because I did not disturb anything while I was there- my job was to document and get out. Though, I will tell you this: I am not going to spend much, if any at all, inside the homes of Carrollton. Mainly because there is almost nothing left anymore.
I do worry about the health of all those demolition crews who worked with asbestos-laden houses. Who really knows how much asbestos they absorbed in their years, and my thoughts and my heart goes to them. Pray for them if you can… they are really the ones to worry about the most through all of this. Like I said, I’m not even entirely sure if they knew the extent of asbestos in the homes when they were taking them down.
Finally, the last conclusion we can make is, the ground around Carrollton is now considered a contamination zone, after having been sprayed with asbestos where every house once was. There is probably no likelihood that the area will become a park, but at least Lambert will have a very difficult time developing on this land to convert it into their pipe-dream shipping hub.