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Moisture helps control asbestos in 'orange soil'

By Beverly Crawford

08/17/2005 - Not too far from the athletic field where a summer soccer camp was held last week at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston stands a lumpy pile of soil just beyond a wire fence that marks the southern boundary of the park.

Under a covering of grass and a few years' growth of "volunteer" trees and brush is a "stockpile" of naturally occurring asbestos or "orange soil." According to John Yetman, an environmental specialist who inspects houses for Fairfax County, it was placed there three or four years ago by a private contractor who uncovered it while blasting rock to create a sewer for potential development of the 116-acre Bachman Farm on Hunter Mill Road.

According to a 2002 memorandum on file with an associated site plan for the property, "the developer that constructed the sewer line and may develop the Bachman property expected, and may still expect, to use the soil in constructing road beds, which would be paved over," wrote Erin C. Ward, assistant county attorney in April 2002.

Ward said that would conclude potential liability under the federal "superfund." But Cate Jenkins, an Environmental Protection Agency employee who attended a Hunter Mill task force meeting where the orange soil was discussed last week, said national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants for asbestos under the Clean Air Act "specifically and explicitly prohibit the use of asbestos materials for roadways.”

"A roadway does not constitute a permitted secured controlled repository for hazardous materials," Jenkins said.

Art Hill, a Reston resident and member of the Hunter Mill Special Study Task Force, asked on Aug. 9 that an environmentalist on Fairfax County's planning staff report to the task force about the soil stockpiled at the Bachman Farm, an undeveloped tract included in the special study.

Developers have proposed building five to eight residential units on the parcel.

"I would prefer to have this issue dealt with [along with] other concerns. It is one of many," such as including water, noise, transportation and affordable housing, said Fairfax County Planning Director Fred Selden.

"I disagree," Hill said. "We don't know the depth and breadth of [the orange soil] or its toxicity. Most asbestos is a carcinogen. Passing on an item without full knowledge of what's involved makes me very uncomfortable."

A county staffer assured Hill that the task force would not ignore the issue.

Yetman is in charge of driving to the rear of Lake Fairfax, past the campgrounds and athletic fields, about twice a year to "monitor" the stockpiled soil. "All I'm looking for is to see that somebody hasn't dug it up or moved it," he said last week. "

After a flurry of inquiries from the public and news media generated by a member of the Hunter Mill task force, Yetman said he went by again on Aug. 11.

"I saw that, 'Yep, it's still there,' and I turned around and left," he said, noting that asbestos fibers that are airborne can be inhaled and accumulate in the lungs and cause disease.

"If you can easily see the strands, those are not inhalable," Yetman said. "They are not going to go into your lungs. There has to be an activity occurring for it to do that."

"Orange soil," a clay that contains naturally occurring asbestos (NOA), is not a threat unless it is disturbed, Yetman explained. Excavation associated with construction can cause that disturbance, he said.

"All the things that are involved in construction, when you have to deform the rock or outright remove it, those are the activities that have the potential for significant amounts of asbestos dust," he said.

But Fairfax County regulates projects built over orange soil, which has a significant presence in the county. Soil is dampened with water, air samples are tested daily, and, after the soil is moved, it is covered with "at least 6 inches of fill. They seed it with grass," Yetman said.

"One of the steps in the process is they would have to file a compliance plan with the health department. This plan addresses all the aspects of construction with NOA," he said.

"Only recently in the last few years has California (El Dorado County) begun to look at this and address it,” he said. "The issues they deal with in California are quite different. [The soil] is more shallow, and they have a drier climate. They have a number of things that would make it more susceptible to release fibers into the air.”

Here, he said, "You have to go down several feet before you start hitting it here. And that is not even the bedrock. The method is of controlling it through moisture and water.”

"As long as somebody is not doing something to the rock to cause it to release dust, we don't see that as any sort of significant risk,” he said.

State Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) sponsored a bill in June that requires public disclosure of asbestos areas and demands local governments account for them when they make land-use decisions. Developers would have to report on the presence of asbestos before breaking ground.

The bill faces opposition from the state's building industry, according to a report in The Sacramento Bee.

Asbestos Water Worries Residents


December 22, 2005 - WESTFIELD - More than 60 Eastwood Acres residents, anxious and at times angry over the recent discovery of asbestos in their drinking water, urged water commissioners to take interim steps to protect their water until new water mains can be installed.

Residents also said they needed to get testing results in a more timely manner so they can adjust their water usage and water sources accordingly.

"It took about three months to alert the community this could be a problem," Eastwood Drive resident John Moran said. "I am disappointed the city took so long." The problem was discovered in August after a sewer construction project revealed badly deteriorating asbestos-concrete water mains within Eastwood Acres

Testing results for samples collected over the past several months from fire hydrants located at the dead ends of certain streets in Eastwood Acres have indicated asbestos levels as high as 29 million fibers per liter of drinking water, officials said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has established a maximum contaminant limit of 7 million fibers per liter, officials.

Health Department Director Daniel Reardon and water commissioners stressed that little is known about the effects of asbestos in the water.

"I think there was a bit of a lag because we found ourselves in uncharted waters," Reardon said.

All the more reason, residents said, for commissioners to take quick action, perhaps through the installation of water filters. "Why should we be guinea pigs?" asked Robert P. Brunelle, drawing a round of applause.

A recent notice sent to Eastwood Acres residents states they do not need to use bottled water, but should contact their physicians if they have any specific health concerns.

The notice states, however, that residents should not use tap water in a humidifier or vaporizer.

Reardon said recent information supplied by the state Department of Environment Protection recommends that those concerned about exposure take baths instead of showers.

Water Commission Chairman Joseph M. Spagnoli said the commission is considering an abatement process through water bills for homeowners who install water filters.

Both state and city officials believe the levels tested directly from hydrants do not accurately reflect the levels in residential taps. Last week, testing directly from two Eastwood Acres taps revealed the water to be free of asbestos, officials said.

Such testing will continue until new water mains are installed this spring and summer. Spagnoli said the Water Department will post those test results on the city Web site.

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