The Utica City Hall was closed on Wednesday, February 25, through Monday, March 2, 2009, after contractors “disturbed” asbestos in the building. During that time, some city services were temporarily suspended.
Built in 1965, there was little surprise that asbestos was discovered around some of the pipes in the building. Before the 1980s, asbestos was a common construction material used in items such as roofing tiles, insulation, and floor tile glue. What was once considered to be a miracle material, asbestos was found in the latter half of the 20th century to be a carcinogen, but it could take decades before cancer developed in someone who had been exposed to asbestos. By the 1990s, the use of asbestos was outlawed in new construction in many countries in the western world: specifically the United States, Australia, and Great Britain. Existing asbestos in buildings would not be grandfathered into the laws and was allowed to remain as long as it was incapable of becoming airborne. If the asbestos is disturbed in its place in a building, it must be removed by a certified asbestos removal specialist.
The asbestos found in the Utica City Hall had been deemed safe until it was disturbed by the contractors. When that happened, the possibility arose that it could have become airborne and caused an inhalation hazard. Air quality tests immediately following the incident did not show that the disturbed asbestos had become airborne, but emergency funds were granted for the removal of the asbestos.
City workers were sent home, and those with the Mohawk Valley Water Authority, who normally rented space in the City Hall, temporarily worked out of a maintenance facility on nearby Kemble Street.
The mayor admitted that it was not the first asbestos incident to have occurred at the City Hall, but he did not give a date for a full abatement of the asbestos in the building.