Des Moines Workers and Residents at Risk for Asbestos

DES MOINES, IOWA—State officials have began an investigation in order to research possible asbestos exposure to visitors and workers from a Des Moines landmark building. The Equitable Building is nineteen stories high and is partly being renovated into luxury condos. Safety officials have begun research as to whether or not visitors and workers were unknowingly exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that is a known carcinogen. This fiber consists of long, thin fibrous crystals and may be mixed with other substances in order to resist heat, electricity and chemical damage. Due to these characteristics, asbestos was used in many buildings and other structures throughout the 1900s. When it is stable and undisturbed, asbestos remains relatively safe. If it is disturbed in any way, however, as it would be during either remodeling or demolition projects, the microscopic fibers within the asbestos become airborne. Once breathed in by humans, they become lodged in the body’s soft tissues, where they may lie dormant for years only to erupt decades later as a serious illness—pleural disease, asbestosis, or the aggressive cancer mesothelioma.

The investigation began last last year, after Bob Knapp, a developer, and his firms were charged with asbestos violations at the building. He was fined $500,000 for failing to identify and properly remove asbestos. A tip from an anonymous source started the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Bureau’s investigation in September.

It is estimated that thousands of people have been in and out of the building for work or to visit during the fourteen months running up until the start of the investigation. Officials from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported that its workers discovered dry asbestos insulation throughout the building, and that there was evidence that the asbestos had not been handled properly.

The developer has denied any allegations, and a lawyer for Knapp stated: “The most important thing is making sure all the tenants are in a safe environment. We believe they are.”

This is apparently not the first time Mr. Knapp has been reported for asbestos-related mishaps. According the law, any building owner and all others who discover the asbestos fiber and want to carry out abatement must first and foremost contact their local and state environmental protection authorities in order to report it before proceeding. Asbestos removal requires a permit, and follow-up of air quality monitoring in order to make sure all procedures are correct.