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August 21, 2018

Asbestos-tainted dirt leaves Dania for landfill near Coconut Creek

DANIA BEACHThe delicate task of removing asbestos-tainted dirt from a construction staging area near the airport began Monday.

The first truck rolled out shortly before 3 p.m., headed for Waste Management’s Monarch Hill landfill near Coconut Creek. The entire job could take up to three weeks, said Greg Meyer, spokesman for the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Cherokee Enterprises Inc., the Miami Lakes company handling the job, will transport an estimated 50,000 cubic tons of dirt and other construction materials when all is said and done.

Test results confirmed the dirt contained traces of asbestos last week, Meyer said. The toxic material can cause mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer linked to asbestos.

Airport officials say the asbestos found at the staging area does not pose a health risk because it is not the kind that can become airborne. But as a precaution, the entire pile of dirt is being trucked away to a landfill, where officials say the material will be properly contained.

Five loads of material were removed Monday and another 20 loads were hauled off as of 10 a.m. Tuesday, Meyer said.

That’s good news to nearby homeowners.

For months, residents in the nearby Melaleuca Gardens neighborhood have complained about all the dust stirred up by an airport contractor using the site near U.S. Highway 1 and Griffin Road as a staging area. The contractor, Tutor Perini, is expected to finish the job revamping Terminal 4 in 2018.

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Rae Sandler, president of the Melaleuca Gardens Homeowners Association, said some residents have developed a chronic cough from all the dust. Others have suffered headaches and asthma attacks, she said.

“It’s no longer a staging area,” Sandler said. “It’s a dump. They are hauling stuff out of there and hauling it here and pulverizing it. It’s mostly dirt, piles and piles of dirt. And now we find out there’s asbestos in there.”

Sandler said the homeowners association plans to hire a private company to test the dirt and soot that’s been landing on residents’ doorsteps and window sills.

Dania Beach officials alerted state and federal officials on Thursday after taking a tour of the site and spotting signs warning of asbestos contamination.

An inspector with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection showed up Friday to make sure crews were keeping the dirt wet so it would not become airborne. The entire site is fenced off and only workers wearing proper gear are allowed to enter.

Airport officials are not yet sure how much the job will cost, Meyer said.

Broward County Mayor Tim Ryan said the asbestos is embedded in old floor tiles buried long ago on airport property near Terminal 4. The material was recently dug up and trucked from airport grounds to the staging area, where it tested positive for asbestos, Ryan said.

The material was tested at the county’s request because it looked different from the other material at the site, Meyer said.

sbryan@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4554

Copyright © 2015, Sun Sentinel

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Asbestos-tainted dirt leaves Dania for landfill near Coconut Creek

Asbestos proves to be a microscopic road block near Boulder City

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV geology professor Brenda Buck and associate professor Rodney Metcalf confer over samples in their lab. They found asbestos in Boulder City that is delaying construction of a highway bypass.

In November 2011, two UNLV scientists touched carbon tape to a sample of bluish-grey mineral on the face of a rock found south of Henderson, then placed it under a microscope. The computer screen showed telltale white fibers, long and slim, like miniature straws.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber found in rock and soil. In the ’60s and ’70s, it was a popular building material.

• Eldorado Hills, Calif.: Naturally occurring asbestos was found in this Sacramento suburb in September 2003 in the soil of the high school. In less than a year, after about $2.5 million in cleanup costs, the EPA and Oak Ridge High significantly cut the health risk to students by landscaping to reduce dust and prevent asbestos fibers from getting airborne.

• Clear Creek Management Area, Calif.: Atop one of the largest asbestos deposits in the world, this recreation area sits on a 29,000-acre serpentine deposit in San Benito and Fresno counties. Inside is the Atlas Asbestos Mine Superfund site, which first got the EPA’s attention in 1984 when large amounts of erosion caused asbestos to flow downstream into the California aqueduct. Since then, the water has been cleaned up, all the mines closed and measures taken to stop erosion. The Bureau of Land Management designated the area as hazardous and propped asbestos warning signs up at entrance points.

• Libby Superfund Site, Mont.: Libby, a former mining town of fewer than 3,000, has been on the EPA’s National Priorities List of most contaminated sites since 1983. In June 2009, it was designated a public health emergency. Contamination was town-wide, partly because residents used vermiculite as a soil additive in their gardens.

• North Ridge Estates Superfund Site, Ore.: Also on the National Priorities List, North Ridge Estates is a residential subdivision near Klamath Falls. Asbestos remnants were found across 50 acres of the neighborhood. The source: demolition debris from the Marine Recuperational Barracks, a complex of about 80 1940s-era buildings that housed soldiers recovering from tropical illnesses. In 2005, exposure risk was determined to be so high that residents were temporarily relocated for the summer when children were on school break and the climate was driest and windiest.

• Torch Lake Superfund, Mich.: From 1868 to 1968, copper mining and smelting operations dumped an estimated 200 million pounds of toxic tailings containing asbestos into Torch Lake on the east side of Lake Michigan. The primary concern is the ecosystem, particularly bottom-dwelling animals whose volume was, pre-cleanup, 20 percent contaminant.

• Carter Carburetor, Mo.: Carter Carburetor, a gasoline and diesel engine manufacturing plant just outside of St. Louis, was active from the 1920s to about 1984, when it was dismantled. Asbestos, found in machinery, furniture and building parts, along with toxic polychlorinated biphenyls and trichloroethylene used in the manufacturing process, were found at unacceptable levels.

It was what they feared: asbestos.

Asbestos used to be modern society’s friend — its strong, flexible, heat-resistant fibers mined and spun into insulation, fireproofing and decorative ceiling finishes. Only later was it discovered that, in certain forms, it can cause respiratory problems including scarred and inflamed lungs and, in extreme cases, cancer.

When UNLV geoscientists Brenda Buck, Rodney Metcalf and their colleagues published a scientific paper eight months ago on the presence of naturally occurring asbestos in Clark County, the effects were immediate and potentially far-reaching.

The discovery has stalled plans, more than 10 years in the making, to build a $490 million highway detour around Boulder City so traffic can move smoothly between Las Vegas and Arizona. Until that new highway is built, tourists, truckers and commuters must use Highway 93, which slices into town and slows miserably on busy days.

Beyond that, the first evidence of naturally occurring asbestos in Clark County may conceivably affect development not yet imagined. Asbestos becomes dangerous when disturbed, when it can be inhaled. That means construction potentially could whirl up a deadly cloud. Because the asbestos is a part of the landscape, cleanup is tough.

Bypass delays have frustrated the town.

“We can’t handle the traffic,” Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler said. “If there’s an accident, it shuts down the whole town. I think this community is tired of what’s going on, and they have been for 10 years.”

The Nevada Department of Transportation and Regional Transportation Commission, partners in the bypass project, are frustrated too, with their own questions: Where exactly is the asbestos-carrying rock? Will construction activity stir it into the air? What is the health risk to workers and travelers?

Construction was scheduled to begin this spring but was put on hold in April to allow for asbestos testing and analysis. Results are expected next month.

NDOT, which is leading Phase I of the project — a 2.5-mile connector heading east from Highway 95 — is prepared to begin construction as soon as it gets the green light. The RTC’s work — a 12.5-mile stretch that finishes the bypass to near the Colorado River — isn’t scheduled to begin until early 2015.

But construction plans may have to be adjusted to reduce workers’ exposure to dust, and bids still need to be sought for contractors.

“Everyone wants to make sure that we proceed in the right manner, and I think we’re doing that,” Tobler said. “I don’t think (the asbestos) is going to hurt the project like it has in other places. I think we’ll be able to move forward.”

But asbestos has a history of slowing major public work projects. In Ambler, Alaska, its presence in a gravel pit stalled an airport expansion and sewage lagoon project for more than a decade. Outside San Jose, Calif., it delayed a $718 million dam replacement for at least three years, and workers now are required to wear protective clothing and decontaminate before leaving the site.

There are no federal regulations for dealing with naturally occurring asbestos. It’s left to states to create regulations based on Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines addressing dust control, monitoring of air and soil, and worker exposure.

Nevada hasn’t created such regulations. Native asbestos doesn’t fall under county air quality standards, and Nevada OSHA has yet to address worker protection. For the most part, everyone is waiting for the test results or for the problem to come knocking on their door. Even the EPA, though aware of the Boulder City asbestos and acting as an adviser for mitigation, is waiting for a request from local officials before getting directly involved.

Meanwhile, Buck and Metcalf continue the research that sparked the issue.

Buck, who specializes in medical geology, started the asbestos study in 2011. A sample from the McCullough Range in Clark County, just south of Henderson, showed mineral actinolite — one of the six regulated forms of asbestos.

They teamed with scientists from the University of Hawaii, home to leading researchers on medical asbestos exposure, and started writing proposals for additional research funding, which they received in spring 2013. The mineral trail led them from the rolling, rocky hills of the McCullough Range overlooking Lake Mead to Highway 93 at Eldorado Dry Lake, a popular site for off-roading and Fourth of July parties, to the heart of Boulder City, beside Martha P. King Elementary School, and the outskirts of its southern and eastern neighborhoods. Every sample contained the fibrous amphiboles.

What was particularly concerning was that the type of asbestos fibers the geologists discovered are known to be particularly dangerous, and their breadth was much more extensive than what the UNLV team originally had thought.

“As soon as we found this out, we worked as fast as we could and as hard as we could to get the data published so that we could inform the public,” Buck said.

The fibers were similar to those found in Libby, Mont., where asbestos-rich mineral vermiculite was mined, leading to the town’s designation 15 years ago as a Superfund site. Many Libby residents have been diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses, including cancer, due in part to their churning vermiculite into their gardens and vegetable patches as a soil conditioner.

The size and shape of the fibers, along with the type of mineral, determine how toxic it is. If it’s small enough, it becomes respirable. Of the fibers Buck and Metcalf found, 97 percent were respirable.

Dormant, undisturbed asbestos isn’t typically a problem. It’s often left in buildings and insulation because it isn’t dangerous unless it becomes airborne. In fact, the act of removing it often presents more danger than leaving it alone.

But that won’t be possible in construction of the highway bypass because explosives are needed to cut a route through the hills.

Thus the challenge: How to ensure the health of construction workers and motorists?

Part of the task includes assessing how extensive the asbestos is. To that end, the geologists are training the transportation departments’ asbestos analysts to spot the kind of rock that hosts the fibers.

There is no known amount of safe exposure to asbestos. But Michele Carbone, a leading researcher of mesothelioma, the cancer linked with asbestos exposure, said the immediate health risks are minimal. Risk rises with the amount of exposure and the concentration of fibers. Signs of the disease may not be evident for 40 years or more.

“Obviously, there is a significant risk, but the odds are you won’t get cancer,” Carbone said. “It takes significant, prolonged exposure. It’s not like shaking hands with someone, and you get the disease. People shouldn’t panic.”

Carbone, of the University of Hawaii, is working with Metcalf and Buck to test their samples on animal and human cells. His colleague Francine Baumann, an epidemiologist specializing in asbestos exposure, is looking at rates of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses in Southern Nevada to determine if the population already is at risk. She’s looking for trends of disease in young people and women, people least likely to be affected from working in places where asbestos might be present.

Nevada is not a hot spot for the disease; as of 2009, mesothelioma struck only about 20 Nevadans a year, keeping pace with the national average.

“Until we know more, one solution is to try and reduce exposure,” Buck said.

Off-road enthusiasts, for instance, may be encouraged to ride somewhere other than the Eldorado Valley.

Today, Buck and Metcalf are mapping the area where the asbestos may lurk, looking into areas with similar geology such as Searchlight, Laughlin and Lake Mead. And they’re trying to get funding to collect air samples, to determine the risk of exposure from different activities, including four-wheeling, horseback riding or simply taking a walk in areas that contain the asbestos.

When they go into the field, they’re careful, wearing respiratory devices and protective clothing. They take their own cars instead of the UNLV geoscience department’s vehicles, so they don’t expose students. They’ve notified UNLV geology, biology and anthropology departments to close down contaminated zones to fieldwork.

They’re worried about their own exposure, having spent years in the field kicking up dust and hammering into contaminated rock. They’re hoping it’s not as bad as it could be.

But they won’t know the answers until their research is complete.

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Asbestos proves to be a microscopic road block near Boulder City

Geologists find natural asbestos fibers in Nev.

LAS VEGAS — Removing asbestos from an old building can be hazardous and expensive. So what happens if the ground outside is covered with the stuff for miles around?

That’s what a team of UNLV geologists is trying to figure out after the surprise discovery of potentially toxic, asbestos-type minerals in rocks and dust from Boulder City to the southeastern edge of the Las Vegas Valley.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas geology professor Brenda Buck said this marks the first discovery of naturally occurring asbestos fibers in Southern Nevada.

A peer-reviewed study detailing the find was published last month in the journal of the Soil Science Society of America.

So how worried should everyone be?

“At this point we know enough to know there is a hazard. We don’t know what the risk is,” Buck told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Until we know more, it would be a good idea to avoid dust from those areas.”

That could be a tall order.

The study area takes in all of Boulder City and a wide swath of the Eldorado Valley, with tendrils that reach to the shore of Lake Mead and into the oldest parts of Henderson.

“It’s not everywhere, but I think you’re going to have a hard time not finding it,” Buck said. “In every sample we looked at we found it. We found it pretty easily, too. I didn’t have to look very hard.”

For one test, Buck spent about three hours walking her horse along a dirt road in Boulder City. When she was done, she found asbestos fibers on her pants and her shoes.

“The last thing we want to do is upset people or cause a panic. But on the other side, we don’t want to give people assurances we can’t give,” said UNLV geologist Rodney Metcalf, who partnered with Buck on the study. “We can’t in good conscience say there’s no problem.”

The long, thin minerals were forged roughly 13 million years ago in the roots of volcanoes, also known as plutons. “Boulder City sits on top of one of these plutons,” Metcalf said.

The fibers have been weathering from the ground for the past 12 million years or so, giving them plenty of time to spread out, Buck said.

She specializes in something called medical geology, basically the study of the health impacts of minerals. She was in the midst of sampling arsenic in the dust blowing from Nellis Dunes when she came across a fibrous mineral in one of her samples. She later started talking to Metcalf about the asbestos-like fibers he was studying in northwestern Arizona, and the two decided to go looking for trouble in similar rock deposits in Southern Nevada.

What they mostly found was a mineral called actinolite, one of six types of asbestos regulated as a toxic substance by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Buck said she notified “several people” at the EPA about her discovery.

Asbestos fibers can’t be absorbed through the skin, but if inhaled or swallowed they can spawn a range of deadly diseases that might not develop for a decade or decades.

The real “pathway to humans” is in the air, Metcalf said. The fibers are too tiny to be seen with the naked eye and so light that they can stay aloft indefinitely once they’ve been stirred up by the wind or the tires on a vehicle.

Asbestos exposure is linked to mesothelioma, cancer of the lungs, larynx and ovaries, depressed immune function, and other disorders.

“There’s no known safe amount,” Buck said. “The good news is not everyone who is exposed gets sick.”

Buck, Metcalf and company plan to continue their research and expand their study area under a three-year grant from the Bureau of Land Management.

That work will include taking a closer look at other potential trouble spots in Clark County, most of it contained within the roughly 1,200 square miles of desert between U.S. Highway 95 and the Colorado River from Boulder City to the southern tip of the state.

Buck said the bureau wants to know more about where such deposits are and what kind of risks they pose. “They’re worried about their workers,” she said.

Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Hawaii are in the early stages of tests to determine how carcinogenic the fibers in Southern Nevada might be. They also plan to conduct a health assessment to see if any documented cases of mesothelioma could be the result of “environmental exposure” in or around Boulder City, Buck said.

Metcalf said asbestos is actually a loaded term, with varying definitions used by doctors, geologists and environmental regulators. For example, he said, the fibers he has found in Mohave County, Ariz., do not meet the regulatory definition of asbestos. But that doesn’t mean they’re safe. In fact, they are similar to those found in Libby, Mont., where so much toxic soil was spread around by a nearby mine that the entire small town has been declared a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“You get this debate about is this asbestos or is it not,” Metcalf said. “It’s really not the issue. The issue is, is it toxic.”

Buck grew up in Montana and has cousins who got sick and died in Libby.

She said she started taking special precautions in the field after the first fibers were found around Boulder City. “As soon as I knew they were there, I sure as hell did. I wear a mask.”

The discovery also forced her to revamp her lab at UNLV to make it safer. “The whole point is don’t let it get into the air. You can’t just drag it in and expose everyone to it.”

For the same reason, Buck has decided not to take college students into the field with her to help collect samples as she normally would. She doesn’t want to expose them to something with the potential to shorten their lives.

“They’re just so young.”

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Geologists find natural asbestos fibers in Nev.

Uxbridge Middle School to be closed a second day for asbestos cleanup

UXBRIDGE — McCloskey Middle School will be closed for a second day Wednesday as a ceiling-to-floor cleaning is completed by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor. School officials said results from air-quality tests Monday were acceptable, however.

School officials sent parents an email and phone message Monday night saying the middle school, which houses Grades 6, 7 and 8, would be closed Tuesday after environmental tests showed that flooring material removed over the summer contained asbestos.

Superintendent of Schools Kevin M. Carney said in an interview that he learned at 3:45 p.m. Monday that asbestos was present in tiles that had been found last week in a Dumpster behind the school. The tiles came from work to replace carpets in three classrooms over the summer.

He said he was surprised that tiles were underneath the carpets, since most carpets in the district lay on top of concrete or wood.

Mr. Carney sent parents a second email Tuesday afternoon informing them that the pre-cleaning air-quality tests done Monday night were favorable, meaning that exposure to airborne asbestos particles was below the exposure limits set by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“That’s a great, great sign,” Mr. Carney said.

He said in the email that the decision to keep the school closed a second day, while the building was being thoroughly cleaned, was made to ensure the safety of students and staff and to adhere to regulations set by the Department of Labor Standards and the Department of Environmental Protection.

Second and final test results were expected by the end of Wednesday.

Asbestos includes fibrous minerals that have been used for insulation and fireproofing, wallboard, flooring, brakes, textiles and other commercial products. Tiny amounts of asbestos are generally present in the air. But if asbestos-containing material is handled and microscopic fiber particles separate, they can be inhaled.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, long-term exposure to asbestos may increase the risk of lung disorders, including cancer. The risk is particularly increased for smokers or people with pre-existing lung disease.

In 1999, the Virginia A. Blanchard School in North Uxbridge, which had been an early childhood education center, was closed because of extensive asbestos, among other building problems.

The McCloskey Middle School, built in 1937, served as Uxbridge High School until the new high school was built off Quaker Highway and opened in 2012.

“We’re not sure how they didn’t pick up the presence of asbestos previously,” said one parent of a sixth-grade student, who asked that her name not be printed to protect her daughter. “The presence of asbestos is alarming.”

“There’s asbestos material in any old building,” Mr. Carney said. “It’s how well it’s contained. We will proceed cautiously for sure.”

Mr. Carney said once the immediate situation is dealt with, he wanted to find out when the building workers knew there were tiles under the carpet and whether they took the necessary precautions.

“We’re so thankful for the patience of people,” Mr. Carney said. “I know it’s disruptive.”

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Uxbridge Middle School to be closed a second day for asbestos cleanup