Asbestos SNAFU Costs Arkansas Town Big

It was a drainage culvert a mere four feet in length, but according to Paul and Shannon Burns of Altus, Arkansas, that four feet of pipe did nearly $20,000 in damage to their property. In 2001, the city started a drainage project, part of which involved installing a culvert across a section of the property next to a recycling center on U.S. 64. The owner sold the lot to Paul and Shannon Burns last year. Since then, the new owners discovered that material used as fill when the culvert was installed came from a building demolition site and contained substantial amounts of asbestos-containing material. Mr. and Ms. Burns, who own and operate a local restaurant, filed a lawsuit against the City of Altus on 25 May of this year, alleging that the asbestos-containing fill material caused “irreparable harm” to their property, and that mayor Veronica Post was fully aware of the problem.

Mayor Post claims that fill material used by the city is taken from several different sites and that there was no way of knowing that asbestos-containing material was present. Nonetheless, on 1 December, the Altus City Council voted unanimously to accept a settlement offer from the Burns’ lawyers for a total of $19,441 in damages. The city will also be responsible for removal of the contamination and replacement of the fill material. Mr. and Ms. Burns have insisted that the city not perform the work, so under the terms of the settlement, the city will have to outsource the job to a private firm–which will probably cost considerably more. Asbestos is a common problem with building demolition, especially when it comes to older buildings; asbestos was an all-too-common building material that could be found in insulation, ceilings, roofing, flooring, concrete, and pipe lagging. All states are bound by EPA regulations when it comes to the removal and handling of asbestos; most states have regulations that are even more stringent. Given this, it makes one wonder about Mayor Post’s claim that the city “had no knowledge” of the asbestos contamination, since someone, somewhere along the line was obligated by law to have such awareness.