The mission of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is, in part, to protect human health and the environment so that all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work. To uphold that mission, last week the Agency announced it will step in to help avoid asbestos contamination in the town of Canajoharie, NY.
The Canajoharie mayor reached out to the EPA at the end of last year for help in managing the destruction of a building that has gone into a state of disrepair. According to a Sept. 22 press release from the Region 2 EPA, the former Arkell and Smiths Sack Co. facility dates back to the 1860s and was once home to the manufacturer of the first flat-bottom paper sack, but now it is abandoned and is “badly deteriorating.” The EPA reports the property was sold in 2007 and is now a complex of dilapidated and collapsing buildings.
“At the request of the local government, the EPA sent staff and federal resources to stop the potential release of asbestos,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “EPA will make sure that the buildings are taken down properly and that asbestos is not spread into the community.”
In February, the EPA took samples and found that the asbestos present in the buildings “has the potential to impact the surrounding area.” Due to the poor state of the buildings, the asbestos has become friable, broken down, and the Agency fears it could spread beyond the property if not managed properly.
The EPA will demolish the buildings and oversee the proper management, removal and disposal of the asbestos-containing materials. The Agency will continuously monitor air quality to ensure the asbestos is contained.
Prior to the 1980’s many buildings were built with asbestos-containing materials. Those buildings still harbor large amounts of asbestos unless renovation projects were undertaken to remove the toxic materials. According to the EPA, asbestos that is in good condition and left undisturbed is unlikely to present a health risk. However, inhalation of asbestos fibers has been linked to mesothelioma, an incurable cancer, lung cancer and asbestosis, scarring and hardening of lung tissue.
According to government statistics, nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, with the same number dying from the terminal cancer.