Asbestos Discovery Delays Demolition

Two vintage buildings in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, that date back to the late nineteenth century have won a stay of execution from the wrecker’s ball. Ironically, they were saved by the same substance that was meant to protect them from fire damage.

The contractor and the local community action organization are not particularly pleased about the situation, but it could be worse.

Before starting demolition in mid-April, contractor J.M. Brennan and Sons hired an asbestos inspector to check the structure prior to the start of work, as is generally required by most state and local regulations. What they discovered was transite–a type of concrete wallboard and siding impregnated with asbestos (the addition of asbestos to the concrete is what enabled manufacturers to create thin sheets of the material).

Fortunately, the substance is not friable. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines asbestos as being “friable” if it can be crushed into a powder with the use of hand pressure alone.

It also appears that there were no other asbestos-containing materials present in either structure.

Once the asbestos was discovered, it was reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as required by state regulations. It takes up to 10 business days for the DEP to gather all required paperwork; based on this, officials decide whether or not a DEP supervisor on the project is necessary.

City manager Mike McGeever then told a local media source that because the asbestos material was non-friable, it could be removed by hand, and that there are ” no special disposal methods or packages and it can be disposed of in normal fill.”

Mr. McGeever may need to check his facts on that. Regardless of whether or not asbestos material is friable or not, most state environmental laws require that it be bagged in clearly marked plastic bags no less than 6 mil in thickness and taken only to an approved toxic waste site. In a similar situation in Massachusetts, shingles discovered to contain asbestos delayed demolition by eight months–and though the materials were not friable and had been encapsulated with a special kind of tar, the law required that they be disposed of as toxic waste.

Meanwhile, the demolition project, originally budgeted at $15,600, will now cost $800 more.

The buildings, which are located next to each other, once contained apartments and a tavern.