Friday, February 01, 2002
Asbestos found at Butler Co. offices
By Michael D. Clark and Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HAMILTON Dozens of office workers on the top floor of the Butler County Courthouse may have been exposed to potentially hazardous asbestos.
According to documents obtained by the Enquirer, tests of the drop ceiling above the county's Adult Probation Department reveal the presence of asbestos debris. But county officials contend that the more than 50 probation department workers are not endangered, nor are other employees or the general public in the downtown courthouse.
A private asbestos abatement firm will begin sealing off the fourth-floor department Feb. 16 and will remove asbestos debris that fell from pipes in the attic and bell tower.
Tests found asbestos debris that fell from pipes in the courthouse attic and bell tower.|
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
But that action comes too slowly for fearful county workers some of whom have blamed chronic illnesses such as respiratory ailments on prolonged exposure to the asbestos exposure made worse, they claim, by large holes in the drop ceiling that have gone years without repair.
A probation department worker who asked not to identified out of fear of losing her job said: Everybody is terrified. We don't know what diseases the asbestos can cause.
But county officials insist they are taking all necessary precautions in a timely fashion.
The ceiling debris some of which was found to contain 40 percent to 50 percent Chrysotile, the most common type of commercial asbestos is the inadvertent result of a window replacement project about four years ago, said county officials.
They said workers for the window company apparently disturbed the asbestos insulation pipes above the fourth-floor ceiling.
Gary Yates, Butler County director of court services, said asbestos concerns surfaced Dec. 3, when a probation employee complained of health problems that were consistent with symptoms of prolonged exposure to asbestos.
Mr. Yates said he relayed the concerns to his supervisor, County Administrator Derek Conklin, who said he immediately contacted a private environmental firm to test for asbestos.
According to a Dec. 21 letter to Butler County commissioners from an SRW Environmental Services Inc. official, the company's inspection a day earlier revealed 75 linear feet of asbestos-containing pipe insulation above a drop ceiling that was noted to be in poor condition.
Officials from Cincinnati-based SRW said the asbestos insulation debris was lying on top of the ceiling tiles. SRW said that the area must be cleared of asbestos and that air samples should be collected following abatement to verify proper decontamination.
SRW officials declined to comment, but Mr. Conklin said he was relieved that the firm's study found employees are in no immediate danger.
I'm much more comfortable after talking to SRW, he said.
SRW also told the county that asbestos needs to be removed only in the areas where it was disturbed. But Mr. Conklin said the county wants all the asbestos removed. The removal will cost $11,000.
Keen & Cross Inc., the Milford company that will be removing the asbestos, will check the entire courthouse for asbestos, he added.
We don't think there's any more there, but we want to be sure, Mr. Conklin said.
The county will pay for probation employees to undergo health exams by University Hospital.
Mr. Conklin said the county also has offered to move any probation department employees who feel unsafe to county-rented offices across from the courthouse until the asbestos is removed. So far, he said, no one has asked to be moved.
Mr. Yates said he learned this week that some employees had seen white dust on their desks when arriving at work some mornings. The employees suspected the dust might be asbestos particles.
I told them that if they see it again to let us know so we can get it checked, Mr. Yates said.
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