At the same time that Patty Murray’s legislation to ban all asbestos in the U.S. is being whittled away (see “Who Threw the Monkey Wrench in Mrs. Murray’s Asbestos Bill?” posted 15 November), Maine senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins say they have managed to get $9.4 million included in the FY 2008 budget for the purpose of removing an asbestos-contaminated pipeline that supplied jet fuel from the Brunswick (Maine) Naval Air Station to Mitchell Field in Harpswell for forty years. The pipeline was originally constructed in 1952 as the armed services were nearly finished with the process of phasing out prop-driven aircraft in favor of jet-engine-powered planes. The Navy stopped utilizing the pipeline in 1992, then sealed it four years later. Currently, the pipeline is still in place, running beneath fourteen different lots on its way from BNAS to the old airfield.
Originally, the Navy intended to transfer ownership of the pipeline to the town of Harpswell and leave it in place. However, over three years ago the Maine Department of Environmental Protection expressed concerns once it was revealed that the pipeline contained an asbestos hazard. The city government of Harpswell has requested that the Navy remove the pipeline. Removing the asbestos-laden pipeline is an involved process due to state and federal regulations from which the Navy is not exempt. Naval officials are required to draft and submit an environmental plan, then submit it to the offices of both U.S. senators, who will coordinate the plan with the Maine DEP, which in turn will present the plan to the town of Harpswell. While the $9.4 million price tag may seem steep for simply removing a pipeline, one of Harpswell’s city officials puts the issue in perspective, pointing out that “$9 million is peanuts… asbestos is a known carcinogen. If there is any possibility that someone gets sick and sues the Navy, $9 million is nothing compared to the cost of a life and a lawsuit.” As a branch of the armed services and a government agency, the U.S. Navy itself is shielded from lawsuits. Nonetheless, corporations that have supplied the Navy with asbestos have frequently been held liable, so the city official’s point is well made.