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Hospital fined for asbestos violations

It didn't warn a contractor about the material's presence

Statesman Journal

August 8, 2006 - Oregon State Hospital has been slapped with civil fines totaling $10,200 for asbestos violations.

The penalties stem from a January incident at the Salem psychiatric facility that may have released hazardous amosite asbestos fibers into the air, a state pollution official said Monday.

The problem surfaced when a contractor hired to install a new water line dug into an old, asbestos-insulated pipeline, the state Department of Environmental Quality says.

State hospital employees should have known that the pipeline contained hazardous material because a 1990 survey documented where asbestos is hidden at the 144-acre hospital campus, said Jane Hickman, the DEQ administrator of compliance and enforcement.

The hospital failed to tell the contractor, Emery & Sons Construction, about the presence of asbestos before the firm began digging, Hickman said.

At the work site, DEQ staff members found asbestos insulation in a pile of dirt and debris next to the excavated pit. Insulation materials are considered "friable," which means they are likely to release fibers into the air when disturbed.

There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, experts say. Inhaled fibers can lodge deep in lung tissue, increasing the risk of lung diseases, including cancer.

Amosite asbestos, one of two types of asbestos found in the pipe insulation, is considered particularly hazardous, Hickman said.

"With amosite, it is much harder to control the fiber release," she said.

State hospital officials have said that January's incident occurred about 200 feet from the nearest residential area. By all accounts, the asbestos materials were properly disposed of in the wake of the DEQ's inspection.

Left unknown is whether anyone inhaled asbestos fibers before then.

"That we don't know because they're invisible," Hickman said. "Usually, with asbestos cases, we just consider the potential for harm."

It can take 20 years or longer for asbestos diseases to show themselves, Hickman said.

Two penalties, each $5,100, were assessed against the state hospital.

The DEQ fined the hospital for allowing asbestos to accumulate in the open; the agency reported that the material should have been packaged in leak-tight, labeled containers. The hospital also was fined for allowing Emery & Sons to perform asbestos-related work without a license.

Emery & Sons was fined $3,600. The DEQ cited the firm for doing asbestos-abatement work without being licensed.

Bill Martinak, the vice president of Emery & Sons, said that the company will appeal its penalty.

"Our contract was to install a water line. There's no mention of asbestos in the contract that we had with the state," he said. "We weren't notified by them that there was asbestos in the area. We want to have a hearing so that we can present our side of the story."

Calls seeking comment from state hospital officials were not returned Monday.

Many state buildings constructed before the 1980s contain asbestos. The state has conducted surveys to identify which buildings have it. The state hospital has four thick binders specifying locations.

Hickman said, "The lesson the state hospital can learn from this is to make sure that they pass on the information that they already have and make sure that there isn't any breakdown in communication." or (503) 399-6709

Mike tours 'frozen zone,' nixes asbestos fears


Need to know

What is asbestos?

It's an incombustible fibrous mineral that was once widely used as a fireproofing agent and insulation in walls, around pipes, in ceiling and floor tiles, in cement and on steel girders. Its use is now widely banned or restricted.

What health effects does it have?

Most of the time, none immediately. But breathing in asbestos fibers over many years may result in asbestosis (lung scarring), cancer of the lung or digestive tract, or mesothelioma (a cancer in the lining of the lungs or abdomen).

Is there a level at which asbestos is safe to human health?

Is it more or less safe dry or wet?
It's safer wet, because it can't be readily inhaled.

Why is it still around?
Because it was so widely used for so many years, it would be extremely costly and disruptive to remove it all. Generally, asbestos abatement programs are only undertaken when the fibers are in danger of becoming airborne.

July 20th 2007 - The deadly steampipe explosion that blew a geyser of mud and debris 30 stories high did not contaminate the air in midtown Manhattan, Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday.

"There is no asbestos in the air," Bloomberg told New Yorkers yesterday evening as he stood in the "frozen zone" - the area cordoned off around the midtown blast site.

But the destruction caused by the blast - which killed 51-year-old Lois Baumerich, of Hawthorne, N.J. - will keep sections of Lexington Ave. closed at least until early next week. Authorities also said:

* Three of the 43 people injured remained at hospitals. The most seriously hurt was Gregory McCullough, the driver of a tow truck swallowed by the 25-foot-wide crater. He was in a medically induced coma last night with burns over 80% of his body.

* Con Ed was not close to determining the cause of the disaster, but experts said a water leak or even this week's heavy rains could be to blame.

* Cleanup of the area was well under way. Con Ed had 400 technicians at the site near the Chrysler Building and pledged to pick up most of the tab. But city officials said taxpayers would take a hit, too.

* The "frozen zone" around the epicenter began to thaw. Third Ave. should be open to traffic today. Lexington Ave. between 42nd and 43rd Sts. will reopen next week, but there is no timetable for the completion of repairs south of 42nd St. The closures will cost businesses hundreds of millions of dollars.

City Hall officials said no asbestos was found in 12 air-quality tests. Fourteen out of 56 debris samples tested positive for the carcinogen, which insulated the steampipe. Twelve samples contained only trace amounts; another 15 results were pending.

The sample with the largest amount of asbestos was taken at 150 E. 42nd St. It contained 16% asbestos, said DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd.

Bloomberg said the overall findings suggest the muck that rained down after the explosion is "highly unlikely to cause any long-term health problems."

The tests were conducted inside and outside the frozen zone, an Office of Emergency Management spokesman said. All of the samples were taken outdoors.

The Health Department ordered building owners to hire qualified inspectors to examine heating and air-conditioning systems, rooftops, entryways and any areas damaged by the blast. Owners must have buildings cleaned by a certified contractor before they can be reoccupied.

It was unclear who would pay for the inspection and cleaning. Con Ed "may very well be responsible for it," OEM Commissioner Joseph Bruno told NY1.

But a Con Ed spokeswoman said that was "still under review."

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and OEM were requiring cleanup contractors and city employees to wear protective gear.

"We will not compromise safety," Bloomberg said. "We will do it as quickly as we can, but safety is our No. 1 priority. We want to make sure no one else gets injured in this."

At one of two dropoff points Con Ed set up for people to dispose of dirty clothes, Stefanie Gordon was torn as she relinquished the Derek Jeter jersey she was wearing when she was caught in the blast.

"It's worth $180," said Gordon, 30, of Hoboken. "But in terms of sentimental value - that's priceless."

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