Asbestos Danger at Former Air Force Radar Station

San Jose, CA—A former Air Force radar station near Silicon Valley has long been abandoned, but remains a health hazard because of high levels of asbestos contamination there.
Eighty-eight buildings at the former Almaden Air Force Station, where Air Force crew members and their families worked and lived are contaminated not only with asbestos but also with lead paint. The Army Corps of Engineers has also been testing the soil onsite for contamination, and is willing to take responsibility for cleaning up any contaminated soil.

The Army Corps also alleges, however, that the buildings were not hazardous when the land was purchased in 1986 by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD), which is a public agency.

The former Almaden Air Force Station sits atop Mount Umunhum, near San Jose. The mountain, which is named after the Ohlone Indian word for “hummingbird,” rises 3,400 feet in the air.

Backed by California Representative Mike Honda, the MROSD wants to offer the land to the public as a recreational area. They have submitted a request for $11 million dollars in order to fund a clean-up project. The monies, which would come from President Obama’s federal stimulus plan, would not only demolish the buildings at the site but also repave the major road on the mountain and pay for a small visitor center.

Asbestos abatement would need to be undertaken as the buildings are demolished, however, which could be an extensive—and expensive—project. Asbestos, a known carcinogen which was widely used in the 40s and 50s and beyond, in building materials such as insulation, tiling and wallboard, poses little hazard until it is disturbed. Whenever an asbestos-containing building is remodeled or demolished, however, the fibrous particles that make up asbestos can become airborne. Once in the air, they are inhaled into the body and can lead to a number of deadly diseases, such as mesothelioma, a particularly aggressive form of cancer.

In order to safely demolish a structure with asbestos materials in it, proper precautions such as the use of protective clothing and extreme care when disposing of the discarded materials must be taken. Only trained and qualified asbestos-abatement workers should undergo such a demolition project.

Support for the clean up of Mount Umunhum is mounting, says Honda, leading to increased pressure on the government to begin renovation of the site.

The compound was built in the 1950s and was in operation through 1980.