Normally, an apartment fire would not attract national attention, although such an event would have great significance on a local level. This particular fire in Gloucester, Massachusetts, however, was especially tragic for three reasons. First, the fire, which started around 11 PM on 14 December 2007, claimed the life of a resident, who was the caretaker of a nearby church building and whose remains are still in the rubble. Second, the building was of great historical significance, and the same fire also destroyed an old synagogue next door.
The third reason is that asbestos in the rubble poses a potential health threat–and will add tremendously to the financial burdens of the individuals who own the property. It should be pointed out that technically, the building’s owners did nothing illegal, and they are not being penalized. They would have been required to remove all friable asbestos once it had been discovered, regardless of when or how. It does, however highlight the risk and heavy responsibility that goes with the title of “landlord”–especially when one is an individual small businessperson.
As owners of record, Gary Raso and Dan Gattineri are now liable for the cost of removing and legally disposing of all asbestos waste at the site and will also be billed for air monitoring services by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. The cost of all of this may run into six figures. Asbestos is common in old buildings such as the Lorraine Apartments, which was originally a hospital during the first decades of the twentieth century. Asbestos was primarily used as a flame retardant, which makes the building’s destruction tragically ironic. According to witnesses, the building fire was fast and hot. This may have been due in part to the liberal use of highly flammable varnish on wood fixtures, which was popular at the time the building was constructed.
If there is any silver lining here, it is the fact that the asbestos-containing material was saturated with the water used to douse the flames, so chances of asbestos air pollution in the area is small. In addition, the ACMs are being kept wet as fire officials attempt to recover the body of the victim and investigate the cause of the Lorraine Apartments’ fiery demise.