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EPA to begin asbestos cleanup

Residents around plant to be asked for soil samples

By Karen M. Zielinski, Press & Guide Newspapers

Members of the Fordson High School soccer team sit on bleachers at George E. Sarkozy Athletic Field waiting for a practice to start on Thursday. Behind them is the former W. R. Grace Plant, 14300 Henn. The area around the plant will be checked and cleaned to remove asbestos. Neighbors in the area, just south of the former Hudson's warehouse on Warren Avenue (water tower visible in background) just west of Schaefer are being asked to attend a meeting Tuesday at Fordson about the situation.

DEARBORN - April 3, 2005 - An outdoor decontamination project, conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will begin this week to rid the area surrounding the former W.R. Grace Plant, 14300 Henn St., of an asbestos problem.

Starting Monday, EPA officials will be seeking written permission from residents in the area to sample their soil.

The former Grace plant, currently owned by Die, Mold and Automation Components, processed vermiculite tainted with asbestos from the 1950s to 1989 and was deemed contaminated by the EPA in 2003 after asbestos was located in the building and on the grounds.

The tainted vermiculite, harvested from a mine with a natural asbestos deposit in Libby, Mont., was mainly used as an attic insulation, sold as Zonolite.

"We've taken samples out there in the grass area, and there was vermiculite visible," said Brian Kelly, on-scene coordinator for the EPA.

"There were levels above 1 percent, which is typically a level of concern. Even percentages less than that are a concern."

EPA officials will extend their investigation to the area around the plant from Chase Road in the west to Schaefer Road in the east and Ford Road in the south to Warren Avenue in the north.

"We'll be starting closest to the factory and working our way out," said Dave Novak, EPA community involvement coordinator.

"We'll ask residents, 'Do you think you have any in your yard? Did you work there?'"

A public meeting will be held Tuesday, April 5, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Fordson High School auditorium, 13800 Ford Road, to discuss the project.

The investigators will be trying to locate employees who worked in the building any time between the 1950s and 2003.

In 2003, the inside of the plant was cleaned-up of the asbestos residue.

Officials will also explore the possibility that plant workers could have taken loads of the bad vermiculite home to use as gardening soil or to fill driveways.

EPA officials found that to be the case at another Grace plant in Minnesota, but they do not know yet if similar instances happened in Dearborn, they said.

Residents can look for evidence of the vermiculite, which does not wash away with time, Novak said.

"It's a shiny glassy mineral about one-fourth of the size of a pencil eraser," Novak said.

The asbestos fibers, long and skinny, are not visible to the naked eye.

Asbestos is hazardous to humans when it is inhaled and can increase the potential for negative health effects including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Those in danger of exposure include employees, people who lived with those employees, those who lived nearby and those who brought the vermiculite to use at their homes.

The effects of asbestos exposure may not appear for decades after the fact.

The clean-up process, expected to last about a month, will consist of vacuuming, pressure washing, soil excavation and air sampling, Kelly said.

"We don't want to scare people," Kelly said. "Safety precautions are being taken."

While the clean-up proceeds, Paul Martin, owner of Die, Mold and Automation Components, said his company — which has 25 employees — will try to conduct business as normal.

"We're just going to have to work around it," Martin said.

"My employees are very worried about it. They think it will put us out of business."

Martin said when his business moved in the building in 1992, he had an inspection conducted but was not alerted to any potential asbestos problems.

"If they would have given any inclination (of a problem), I wouldn't have bought it," Martin said.

"I look back on it, and my major question is why — when the Grace plants were shut down — the people they hired to do the Phase I investigation didn't know of any problems."

Martin said he also has some questions regarding other similar investigations.

Nearly two years ago, Martin said the railroad company checked the tracks next to his property, and they said their tests came back negative.

"They say their property is not contaminated, but two inches away, my property is contamination," Martin said.

He said he has received no reports of health problems among his employees.

Martin worries as to what the monetary repercussions will be for him, since he said he received a letter saying he was a financially liable party.

He said before he moved into the Grace plant, his company leased a building to Grace for about 25 years, and the business next door, L.A. Martin — in operation since 1928, has been contaminated, too.

"I've had some very long-term employees quit," Martin said.

"I don't know how this is going to affect me financially."

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