Asbestos find delays housing construction

Jake Kapsner

The University Village project added another no trespassing sign to their 2515 University Ave. S.E. construction site last week: Danger — Asbestos Hazard.
Contractors discovered large amounts of asbestos-contaminated material April 24, four days after construction on the housing complex began.
Fuzzy, loose material posed immediate danger to people traveling past the site, officials said.
Site containment began immediately before health officials arrived on April 27, said Katherine Carlson, Public Information Officer for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Workers sprayed the exposed area down with water to prevent wind dispersion. A less dangerous, contaminated chunk was also found and covered, Carlson said.
“Because it’s covered over and wetted down, the risk isn’t there (anymore),” she said.
Contractors are now removing the more dangerous, loose asbestos, said Jeff Connell, an enforcement coordinator investigating the asbestos abatement. The next step will be assessing the amount and type of old, potentially contaminated demolition debris on site before removing or burying it.
The construction site is the future home of a 199-unit student housing complex funded by the nonprofit Wedum Foundation.
Officials haven’t determined how much contaminated material is on site, nor the level of risk exposure prior to discovery.
Charles Gierke, the control agency’s Asbestos Program Coordinator, said risk assessment at the site was subjective because it was outdoors. Monitoring airborne asbestos levels indoors is a more crucial and accurate procedure, he said.
“It probably was minimal risk,” Gierke said.
Red Pine Industries, an asbestos abatement contractor, used fire hoses to spray down dirt and debris. A backhoe scooped up excavated ground and laid it in trucks for deposit in a specialized landfill Monday, as part of the immediate abatement procedure.
Asbestos is a mineral that can be left alone in the ground, but is a known carcinogen when airborne with no known safe exposure level. Exposure occurs when particles are inhaled.
The fibers can become trapped in lung tissue and pose a cancerous and respiratory threat 30 years later, according to control agency documents.
In the 1960s and 1970s, demolished debris was commonly buried over, asbestos included. The Federal Clean Air Act labeled asbestos a hazardous air pollutant in 1972.
Asbestos was used in over 3,600 products and frequently used to insulate boilers and steam lines in industrial buildings, Connell said. Such was the discovery at the University Village site.
Finding remnants of building foundations in the ground is uncommon now, however, because in current demolition practices all debris is typically removed, Gierke said.
University Village developer’s original plan to excavate large rubble and redeposit it on site has changed, Connell said.
Developers also face the threat of prolonged and expensive construction, Carlson said. But developers and contractors would not comment on the record about specific costs and time lines.
Final completion of the project is scheduled for September 1999.