After a July 12 fire destroyed the Clemens House, an historic abandoned building in the Carr Square neighborhood in St. Louis, residents concerned about debris in their backyards reached out to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and city officials over potential asbestos contamination.
“There’s asbestos that has been strewn all over our neighborhood,” said one resident, according to KPLR11, “and we don’t know what the air quality is like where we are standing and now breathing.”
The EPA conducted an assessment of dust and debris samples taken from around the property and neighboring sidewalks uncovering asbestos. Subsequent air monitoring tests by EPA staff, however, have found that the air is clear.
The owner of the building is working with the EPA to mitigate the issue. According to KMOV, the owner released a statement saying in part, “Since the unfortunate and tragic burning of the historic Clemens House, Northside Regeneration and our insurance companies have been hard at work” assessing the damage, stabilizing the site and assembling demolition and cleanup proposals.
In a July 20 statement from the St. Louis Mayor’s office, officials indicated ongoing air monitoring tests being conducted by the EPA have returned clean air. The EPA will continue monitoring around the area for the next week. The office issued the following cautionary steps for residents:
“Until more information is available, the EPA advises residents to avoid touching, picking up or moving any debris that may have come from the fire. Residents are further advised not to track the dust and debris into homes, take shoes off before entering homes and wash hands frequently.”
The Clemens House was home to James Clemens Jr., the uncle of Samuel Clemens, or Mark Twain.
When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they can become lodged in the lungs leading to inflammation and decades later, a potential for mesothelioma or lung cancer. The EPA warns that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
Between 2,500 and 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.