When the New Jersey community of Monroe Township acquired the building formerly owned by telecom company Verizon, they got more than they bargained for. The building has been undergoing renovation in order to serve as a new home for the community library. The structure’s interior was gutted last summer by demolition workers employed by the city. Earlier this month, an environmental study results show asbestos levels that are 200 percent above those considered “safe” under federal guidelines. According to the study, the joint compound used in wallboard on the inside surfaces of the building’s outer walls contain three percent asbestos. The limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency is one percent. As most readers are aware, asbestos was–and is–commonly used in a large numbers of building materials, including wallboard, tiles, various adhesives and insulation. When these materials begin to age and deteriorate, they may begin to crumble and release loose asbestos fibers into the air; in this state, it is called friable. Upon receiving the report, Monroe Mayor Michael Gabbianelli ordered an analysis of the air quality inside the building.
In a public statement, Mayor Gabbianelli said that city officials “… are contacting all township employees, including our summer and student hires, in an effort to notify anyone who may have been in the building or in contact with the building this past year.” In addition, city officials have notified the county Board of Health as well as the appropriate state and federal agencies. In an effort to calm public fears, Gabbianelli assured everyone who has worked on the project “…that the township is dedicated to protecting their well being,” adding that “…the circumstances [are not believed to] warrant a public health hazard or risk,” but that the project for the new library would “…proceed with an abundance of caution.” For those workers who are concerned that they have been exposed to harmful levels of asbestos, the township is providing medical screenings and health care providers who can answer any questions they may have. In the meantime, city officials are developing policies to address the needs of workers as well as a remediation plan for the library building, should it be required.