Asbestos in Church

Is there any place free of this insidious, destructive substance? In the case of older and historic buildings, the answer is no. For most of the twentieth century, asbestos was the inexpensive cure-all for everything from fire danger to structural weakness, and for much of Corporate U.S. and Canada, a source of great profit.

Even houses of worship were not immune to the plague. Earlier this month in North Brookline, Massachusetts, work crews engaged in a massive project to remove asbestos-containing materials from St. Aidan’s Church. All proper procedures were followed; asbestos waste was soaked with amended water (the “amendment” is usually dish soap, which aids in the soaking process by making the water “wetter”), and sealed in approved plastic bags. By now, two of the church’s garages and the rectory have passed into history. Nonetheless, many neighbors weren’t happy about the project, especially when the contractors hired by the local diocese were unable to confirm exact dates as to when the project would take place. Nearby resident Sue Feinstein, who wanted her family well away from the vicinity while the asbestos abatement was going on, said ” I don’t want, 20 to 30 years from now, for the children to come down with cancer.”

Another local resident, Boston University student Alexandra Winter, stated that she “…would want to know if it’s at a level where you need to stop [the work].” Despite assurances from the contractors that air monitors would be in constant use during the project, most local residents wanted the contractors to limit the hours during which they worked in order to limit exposure to students of the parochial school. A representative for the diocese promised that she would ask the contractors to limit work to hours when students would be in class and least likely to be exposed to asbestos dust. Nonetheless, the local Director of Environmental Health, Pat Maloney, did his best to reassure neighbors. “We have a lot of this going on–we don’t have people vacating neighborhoods because of this,” he told residents. Considering how painful and horrific asbestos diseases are, the neighbor’s concerns were understandable. Nonetheless, it appears that the contractors took every necessary precaution during the project; additionally, local residents should keep in mind that statistically, asbestos cancer is relatively rare.