Even though President Trump’s administration has placed a freeze on some of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s actions, including securing new contracts, EPA and town officials of Davidson, North Carolina report a cleanup project will proceed at an old asbestos mill.
The Metrolina Warehouse was home to Carolina Asbestos, an asbestos factory that operated in the small NC town for a thirty-year span, from 1930 to 1960. The factory made asbestos fabric, tiles and shingles, and, according to reports, the workers tossed asbestos waste in a ditch on site. Now, a developer wants to demolish the building and redevelop the site, but not surprisingly, asbestos debris has been uncovered, according to a Jan. 18 article on WFAE.org, the Charlotte-area NPR news station.
The wooded area behind the site is referred to as “asbestos hill” by town residents who know that asbestos can be found throughout the town. During the 50’s and 60’s residents would get truck loads of asbestos to use in their driveways and yards to fill in bare patches. In addition, some report the stream would turn a “milky white” from asbestos runoff. When the EPA inspected over 75 properties in the area, 23 homes were found with high enough asbestos levels to warrant removal, an EPA spokeswoman said, reports WFAE.
According to a Jan. 25 article on the WFAE website, the developers have taken on other asbestos-ridden projects and understand what needs to be done to manage a development project of this magnitude. “The land has to be developed properly and safely first before we can put something new and better on top of it,” said the spokesperson of the group hoping to move forward with an apartment complex.
The Superfund cleanup will start Jan. 30 to cover loose asbestos that spilled near the mill last year and initially drew the attention of the EPA. The asbestos was unearthed when a groundhog digging in the area burrowed into soil covering an old asbestos pile. The Department of Environmental Quality will start by clearing out brush and installing a liner to prevent asbestos runoff. The current mill owner has agreed to pay for this work.
The EPA has declared that asbestos is a carcinogen and that there is no safe level of exposure. Inhalation of asbestos fibers has been shown to cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and other serious respiratory diseases. It can take between 15 and 60 years after exposure to asbestos before an asbestos-related disease is diagnosed, leaving Davidson residents concerned for their health.
Many residents are glad to see the hazardous waste be cleaned up and the old building torn down. However, there is a group of residents dedicated to saving the mill for its historical value and to prevent over-population in the town with a new residential complex.
The EPA recommended the town relocate a bus stop that is along the project away from the former mill site. The Agency also recommended residents refrain from activities that disturb the soil such as mowing, leaf blowing, and gardening, as well as suggesting residents remove their shoes prior to entering their home.
They also issued the following statement to residents: “If you believe you were exposed to any asbestos related to this Site, tell your doctor about your exposure and symptoms. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services also has materials that explain how you can possibly be exposed to asbestos and how it may affect your health.”
Anyone exposed to asbestos faces a life-long health risk. Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.
To find out more about the Davidson cleanup, see the EPA’s Davidson Fact Sheet.