Toxic Asbestos Fire Prevented with Heightened Security at Aerovox

The Aerovox mill in New Bedford, Massachusetts, was acquired by the city when the limited liability corporation that owned it did not pay taxes. Since getting the 10-acre industrial site in December 2008, the city has increased the security to prevent a fire at the PCB- and asbestos-riddled complex.

Fire at the mill was on the minds of city officials when they allowed city police to work with the private security company Day and Zimmermann to watch the 450,000 square foot building at the site twenty-four hours a day.

New Bedford hoped to prevent the toxic disaster that could result from a fire at the former Aerovox mill. With PCB and asbestos in the building’s construction, a fire could release toxic fumes and asbestos fibers into the surrounding neighborhood, and water runoff from fighting the fire was feared to pollute the harbor. “Air emissions created by a fire and runoff from fire suppression activities into the harbor pose threats to human health and the environment,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The security for the site was paramount as the Environmental Protection Agency, the city of New Bedford, and the former owner of the site battled out who would pay for the demolition costs for the building. According to the EPA project director, Dave Dickerson, the site could be scheduled for deconstruction at the beginning of 2010.

The Bullard Street Neighborhood Association conducted a meeting attended by 50 residents addressing the evacuation plans set by the city in July 2007 in the event of a fire at the mill. Three evacuation zones were arranged in concentric circles surrounding the plant. The first zone included those within 500 feet of the mill ranging up to the third for those living and working within a half mile from the mill. These groups would be evacuated to the New Bedford High School, which would serve as a mass care shelter, while the St. Joseph-St. Therese School would be for those with special needs.

The residents attending the meeting urged the EPA officials there to discuss the evacuation plans with the local schools to be certain that school officials were fully aware of the plans.

Once the site is demolished and cleaned up by the EPA, the threat of a toxic fire will be erased.