Workers on one of the nation’s most iconic landmarks may have been exposed to asbestos during renovation at the site. Asbestos insulation used to wrap a steam pipe was inadvertently cut and damaged in November. During investigation, officials realized the pipe had also been cut a month prior, but the mishap went undetected. Officials fear that during that month asbestos fibers may have been released into the area leading to a health risk for the workers.
According to a Jan. 27 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the mishap resulted in a one-month work stoppage and a nearly $350,000 overage in the budget. The pipe was cut on Nov. 3 at which point park officials evacuated the work site and halted renovations until Dec. 15. When the asbestos was discovered, the site had to be sealed off and the piping and insulation had to be removed. However, due to the lag in discovering the prior cut, officials deemed the entire site contaminated. Air quality testing and various other safety measures had to be undertaken before renovations could continue.
The St. Louis Times-Dispatch reported on Nov. 13 that over 100 workers and employees could have been exposed to asbestos.
Asbestos is a known carcinogen. Exposure to the toxic mineral can lead to mesothelioma, cancer and asbestosis. According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, studies indicate asbestos can also cause cancers of the mouth, throat, digestive tract and organs.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports there is no known safe level of asbestos exposure. As a result, managing friable, or loose, asbestos is highly regulated and requires work to be done by licensed, certified contractors. Contractors in Missouri must follow the “Asbestos Requirements for Demolition and Renovation Projects” from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Tom Bradley, superintendent of the Arch grounds for the National Park Service, told the Post-Dispatch that workers who may have been exposed to the asbestos will be sent for medical testing.
“The amount of exposure, we believe, is minimal,” said Bradley. “But nonetheless you want to be safe.”
Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, and many of these people die within one year of diagnosis. There is no cure for the cancer that can take decades to develop, but early detection can lead to improved survival and quality of life.
The Gateway Arch website indicates the interior of the arch will be closed for renovation through March. In addition, the Museum of Westward Expansion, the underground museum, is closed for “significant renovations.” No date is given for reopening.