Western Colorado Mall Burns, Found to Contain Asbestos

Colorado often brings to mind images of majestic, rugged alpine vistas and lush conifer forests that cling to the sides of snow-covered granite peaks soaring to 10,000 feet or more. This is true for part of the state. The northwestern part of Colorado, however, is a desolate, sagebrush desert–and a very arid region. Because of its dry climate, fire is always a concern… and that concern has usually meant using asbestos materials in building projects. Ironically, asbestos didn’t save the Country Mall in downtown Craig late last November. Local firefighters declared the structure a complete loss, while police investigators later discovered that the building had been “torched” by an arsonist, although no motive has been determined and no arrests made. Nonetheless, the ruins of the mall have been barricaded off with asbestos warning signs. The contamination was discovered by personnel working for Sunrise Environmental LLC, a local inspection firm. Colorado has some of the most stringent environmental regulations of any state in the Union when it comes to asbestos. According to a manager for Kingston Environmental Services of Denver, which as been hired for the cleanup, asbestos, abatement and disposal could take as long as three weeks. The manager, Roy White, said that “…it really depends on the weather… if the wind gets over 20 miles per hour, we have to shut down. The job would take longer if we had a lot of problems with that.”

Wind is another characteristic of the arid western Colorado deserts. Kingston workers will be keeping the material wet so as to inhibit the release of asbestos fibers into the community’s air. In addition, the company will be putting up a wind tent around the property in order to protect residents from potential asbestos contamination. Meanwhile, the property’s owner, Veldon “Lop” Behrman, is not happy about the situation, and doesn’t believe the results of Sunrise Environmental’s tests. “There isn’t enough asbestos in there to hurt anybody,” Behrman protested to the local media. “If the fire hadn’t gotten into that floor tile, it’s nonpliable [sic], which means it could be bagged up and taken to any landfill.” According to Sunrise Environmental tests, 25 percent of the material in the linoleum in one area was asbestos. The State of Colorado considers any amount above 1 percent to be a threat to public health. Nonetheless, Behrman’s displeasure is understandable when one realizes that he is having to pay for the cleanup out of his own pocket–$200,000 to date–while his insurer decides what, if any compensation he will receive. The company, Continental Divide Insurance, is offering a $10,000 reward to anyone with information that will lead to the arrest of the arsonist.