By Genia Gould
Asbestos exposure is a challenge for our neighborhood right now, because wherever there are old factories, there’s typically asbestos. The removal of the asbestos in the case of the Domino Sugar Refinery site is a problem for the community, because asbestos fibers are released into the air when asbestos materials are disturbed during repairs, renovations, removal, or demolition.
Recent video* footage posted online (April 11, 2013) shows improper and unsafe asbestos removal, particularly of transite panels from the Specialty Sugars Building at Kent Ave. and S. 3rd St.
It raises concerns for local residents, as well as experts in the field of asbestos remediation and lung disease. In the video, one sees the close proximity of the asbestos removal to mothers with children, cyclists, and people mingling, in the streets below.
Jorge Roldan, a certified instructor for the New York and New Jersey Departments of Health for 13 years, and an apprenticeship coordinator for Local 78, identified a series of violations when he viewed the video.
Roldan speculates that the Domino building may have gotten the green light to do what’s called “dry removal,” which allows certain asbestos abatement to be conducted in open air, but “it must be removed intact,” he says. But because they are breaking up panels with a crowbar, the law stipulates that this be done “in containment and wetted.” “I don’t see tenting. I don’t see garden hoses, or water there,” he says, adding, “They know what they are doing is illegal.”
More violations Roldan cites:
• Dropping asbestos at a height greater than 10 ft.
• Scaffolding lifts without plastic on them, to collect any asbestos dust that may fall to the ground.
• Scaffolding lifts with open sides, no fall protection being used.
• Critical barriers (openings to the building): the plastic wrapping was open and no one repairs it.
• An individual is seen at start of the video not wearing protective clothing or a respirator.
(*The video posted online shows 3 1/2 mins. of a 3 1/2 hr. tape, according to unnamed sources.)
“The concerns are warranted,” says Linda Reinstein, co-founder of the ADAO (Absestos Disease Awareness Organization) “as there is consensus from every government agency that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.”
(Reinstein shared the video on her blog, with additional information and images.)
Exposure to asbestos dust, microscopic glass-like particulates, is a known carcinogen which causes mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer of the lungs, for which there is no known cure, and other asbestos-related diseases. There are 10,000 asbestos-related deaths yearly in the US (107,000 globally). But because diseases are under-reported, Reinstein suspects the numbers are closer to 40,000 in the US.
This has prompted several members of the community to call an emergency Town Hall meeting, to be held on Monday, April 29 at 6:30pm, at Picture Farm Gallery at 330 Wythe Avenue (bet S. 1st & S 2nd Sts).
The California-based activist Linda Reinstein will be in attendance at the meeting to answer the community’s questions, and to help the community organize a plan of action. She was cautious when commenting about the video: “one needs to be careful when viewing a video, because it could have been monkeyed with, but my concern when viewing it is seeing workers in disposable protective gear, and respiratory protection, yet breaking apart transite panels. I can see the dust, and they’re on top of a roof, and it’s airborne.”
Transite is an asbestos-cement product typically used in wall construction. Demolition of older buildings containing transite materials, requires special precautions and disposal techniques to protect workers and the public.
Reinstein said she didn’t want the community to panic in any immediate way, but that her greater concern, now, is looking at the ongoing disposal of the large transite panels, and protecting the public. “It’s an expensive process, and when it’s not done properly, it’s expensive to the people (who have no benefit to the project, ordinary folk) in dollars and lives. Someone gets sick and dies.” [Editor’s comments in parentheses]
Two Trees Management Company, the developers who bought the Domino property in 2012 from CPCR, have indicated that the asbestos abatement process will take a considerable amount of time.
The Two Trees plan for the site, which includes 3,372,777 gross square feet of five towers, ranging from 40 to 60 stories tall, has yet to be approved by the Community Board or New York City Council, or the voting population of the community.
It raised red flags for both Reinstein, and for the entire city, when it was learned that New York Installation was contracted to remove asbestos at the 12-acre site. The controversial company has been cited for dozens of violations from OSHA and EPA. They are additionally “blocked from doing public sector work after it stiffed workers,” it was reported recently in the NY Daily News.
Surrounded by Demolition and Renovation
Reinstein says it is “monumentally important” for the community to keep a heightened level of vigilance around Domino asbestos abatement activities; demand government transparency, and honest engagement with the community. She also disclosed, given the sheer extent of development activity in our community, that the issue goes beyond Domino: “the people in your community are surrounded by demolition and renovation of buildings.”
Asbestos was especially prevalent in buildings up until the late 1970’s. It was a commonly used building material, everywhere for many purposes, including insulation for sprinkler pipes, in walls, electrical, and sound proofing, even in linoneum tiles. “The ‘beauty’ of the fiber was its tensile strength. It was added to cement to make the cement stronger. It’s impervious to water, it’s heat resistant, lightweight, and inexpensive. It was once considered a ‘miracle mineral’,” she says, adding, “but it isn’t biodegrable.”
“The important part most people don’t know, is that as early as 1906, it was already known to cause disease, so for 100 years despite that knowledge, it has continued to be in wide use.” The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that “The United States produced about 3.29 million metric tons (Mt) of asbestos and used approximately 31.5 Mt between 1900 and 2003. About half of this amount was used after 1960.” According to USGS, most of the imported asbestos came from Canada.
A big part of Reinstein’s efforts in her tireless work around the issues of asbestos are towards having the material asbestos banned from continuing to be imported. Believe it or not, it’s still being imported and used in products today, including “in some building insulation, ceiling tiles, floor tiles and dry wall, as well as automotive brakes pads, gaskets and clutches,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Reinstein works with U.S. Senate every year to draft and help pass a resolution designating the first week of April 2013 as “National Asbestos Awareness Week.” (In her resolution, there are 17 facts regarding asbestos and mesothelioma which have been entered into the Congressional Record.)
“Asbestos was heavily used to build our country—now we have to prevent exposures to eliminate asbestos-caused diseases,” says Reinstein. The effects are also not immediate, they are long term. It can be as long as 10 to 50 years before the symptoms of disease are evident. Given the time that it takes a person to develop symptoms, it is almost impossible to know when and where the exposure took place. The responsible parties are off the hook. It’s, if you will, a perfect crime. When the symptoms develop, the pleural tissue separates from the lung, and for the sufferer, “it feels like you are trying to blow up a balloon in a pail of water—the pressure around the balloon, like cancer around the lung, makes breathing extremely difficult and painful.”
“Where is it, and what can I do?”
There are regulatory laws in place, because of the Clean Air Act of 1970. (OSHA protects workers’ health, and the EPA protects public health.)
Because it is known that there is asbestos in the Domino buildings, there are certain regulatory steps the owners must take before they can demolish the building or do any kind of gut renovation, Reinstein explained. “The first step is to confirm presence or absence of asbestos and then follow government regulations to prevent exposure.”
“The common questions I’m hearing in Williamsburg, and around the nation, are ‘what is asbestos?’ ‘where is it?’ and ‘what can I do?’” says Reinstein. “The great news is, government resources enable us to build our roadmap of knowledge.”
The EPA states, “If the asbestos-containing material is more than slightly damaged or could be disturbed, there are two types of actions that can be taken by trained and accredited asbestos professionals: repair and removal. Improper removal may actually increase you and your family’s exposure to asbestos fibers.”
Shift in Community Action
Reinstein believes that a major shift is afoot in the Williamsburg community, and will create a new model of action for the nation, so she has agreed—incredibly—to travel to New York to address the issues at the meeting this Monday, April 29. She will also tell her own story. Her husband, Alan, was a victim of mesothelioma and succumbed to the disease in 2006 at the age of 66. She will talk about how her personal experience caring for her husband, and working with him on the issues of asbestos, while he was still well enough, shaped her into “an accidental activist.” Renowned guest speakers also include Dr. Jay Parkinson, MD, MPH, the founder of Hello Health; a mom from the neighborhood; and possibly a representative from the American Lung Association.
Reinstein sees the growing Williamsburg demographic of young urban families in their 30 and 40s who are not only technologically savvy, but engaged with public health and safety issues by bringing awareness and community action into play. There’s a shift to get back to the wholesome part of being an American, the way we once were, when we recognized the importance of “community.” It shouldn’t be a request, rather a requirement to breathe safe air and to have our environment free from toxins. Williamsburg is willing to pull together a Town Hall meeting to address the matter, and take a stand in Brooklyn.
“Too often community rights are usurped. I see Williamsburg empowering its residents with knowledge; and community organizing to protect public health and their environment.”
Linda Reinstein also says, she’ll bring the message about what’s happening in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Washington DC, and will bring national attention to the issue.
See you at the Town Hall Meeting on Monday!
- Identify the location of asbestos-containing materials (ACM) in homes, schools, workplace, and public/private buildings
- Post asbestos abatement jobs publicly online
- Identify structures with known asbestos-containing materials (ACM) undergoing renovation and demolition.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will manage the asbestos information received
Where asbestos may be found:
- Attic and wall insulation produced containing vermiculite
- Vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives
- Roofing and siding shingles
- Textured paint and patching compounds used on wall and ceilings
- Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets
- Hot water and steam pipes coated with asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape
- Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets with asbestos insulation
- Heat-resistant fabrics
- Automobile clutches and brakes
If You Have an Asbestos Problem
If the asbestos-containing material is more than slightly damaged or could be disturbed, there are two types of actions that can be taken by trained and accredited asbestos professionals: repair and removal.
Repair usually involves either sealing or covering asbestos material. With any type of repair, the asbestos remains in place.
- Sealing (encapsulation) involves treating the material with a sealant that either binds the asbestos fibers together or coats the material so fibers are not released. Pipe, furnace and boiler insulation can sometimes be repaired this way. This should be done only by a professional trained to handle asbestos safely.
- Covering (enclosure) involves placing something over or around the material that contains asbestos to prevent release of fibers. Exposed insulated piping may be covered with a protective wrap or jacket.
Removal may be required when remodeling or making major changes to your home will disturb asbestos-containing material. Also, removal may be called for if asbestos-containing material is damaged extensively and cannot be otherwise repaired. Removal is complex and must be done only by a trained and accredited asbestos professional. Improper removal may actually increase your and your family’s exposure to asbestos fibers.
Asbestos Professionals: Who Are They and What Can They Do?
In general, there are two main types of accredited asbestos professionals that can be hired to handle asbestos-containing material:
- Asbestos Inspectors. These individuals can inspect a home or building, assess conditions, take samples of suspected materials for testing, and advise about what corrections are needed. If repair or removal of asbestos materials is chosen, inspectors can ensure the corrective-action contractor has followed proper procedures, including proper clean up, and can monitor the air to ensure no increase of asbestos fibers.
- Asbestos Contractors. These professionals can repair or remove asbestos materials.
Federal law does not require persons who inspect, repair or remove asbestos-containing materials in detached single-family homes to be trained and accredited; however, some states and localities do require this. For safety, homeowners should ensure that workers they hire to handle asbestos are trained and accredited.
Reinstein points to the recent Hurricane Sandy disaster and 9/11, and the issue of air quality …
A TIMELINE FROM LINDA REINSTEIN
• 1906 The first clinically recorded case of asbestos-induced lung disease Dr. Murray
• 1955 Dr. Richard Doll publishes study-linking asbestos to lung cancer.
• 1964 Irving Selikoff publishes a study linking asbestos exposure to mesothelioma
• 1970 Clean Air Act & Occupational Safety and Health Act
• 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
• 1977 International Agency for Research (IARC) declares asbestos a human carcinogen
• 1907 American Lung Association (ALA)
• International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers
• 2004 Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization