March 19, 2019

Prosecutor in dust-up over asbestos threat

CROWN POINT | Like the sands of time, dust regularly falls on offices of the Lake County prosecutor, who hopes it isn’t laced with asbestos.

“A number of our employees have been complaining about sinus problems and are very concerned,” Prosecutor Bernard Carter said Monday.

Forty-year-old asbestos fireproofing hangs above the heads of more than 40 of his deputy prosecutors and clerical support staff along with countless visitors.

He notes with irony the asbestos has been removed in the county jail, but not where his staff works.

County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, said, “Unfortunately, there still is asbestos in the buildings, but as long as its not disturbed, it’s not hurting anybody.” Commissioners oversee county building maintenance.

Nevertheless, Carter said he and his employees presented the Board of Commissioners with a petition to address the problem when they were dramatically reminded of it two months ago following a water line that burst in their office, spraying their law library and evidence closet with sewage.

“The workmen who came in were all taped and dressed up like they were going into space. Our employees were walking around unprotected and wondering what they were being exposed to,” Carter said.

Scheub said, “Anytime anybody complains about air quality, we take that very seriously.” He said commissioners ordered Rober Rehder, superintendent of county government buildings, to hire a firm to test the air quality. “He told commissioners they found nothing detrimental to anybody’s health.”

Barb McConnell, one of Carter’s chief deputies, said, “Testing hasn’t been done in this office for years. We have had to tape plastic up in our victim-witness office so the stuff won’t fall on their desks. When there is movement upstairs, you can’t tell me that doesn’t disturb it.”

It’s no better for much of the floor above Carter’s office. Public Defender David Schneider said asbestos is above the heads of his staff. Senior Lake Criminal Court Judge Salvador Vasquez said three of the four original courtrooms there still have it. “So far, no one has gotten sick. We haven’t held a discussion about it, because out of sight, out of mind.”

Asbestos is a mineral fiber with heat-insulating and fire-resistance properties that was commercially sprayed into buildings until the mid 1970s, when it was linked to lung cancer in persons who inhaled large amounts.

It was present in all three original buildings of the county government center when they opened four decades ago. A federal court mandate prompted county officials to remove it from the jail in the late 1980s.

The state held the county in violation of occupational safety laws in 1990 after material was found on office floors in the courts building. Commissioners posted warnings that year forbidding employees from removing any drop-ceiling tiles except in a dire emergency.

Commissioners spent $12 million between 1993 and 2006 removing asbestos from public and office areas, but the program was halted short of the mark because of cost overruns that occurred when money was diverted to new carpeting, lighting fixtures and other non-asbestos spending.

There are no plans to address asbestos with any of the $12 million the county has just borrowed to address county government building maintenance, Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, said Monday, but he said commissioners need a professional assessment of where asbestos remains, so it can be dealt with in future rehabilitation projects.

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Prosecutor in dust-up over asbestos threat

Penn Receives $10 Million Award to Study Asbestos Adverse Health Effects, Remediation

Penn Receives $10 Million Award to Study Asbestos Adverse Health Effects, Remediation

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Newswise — PHILADELPHIA – Researchers at the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology (CEET), Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, have been awarded a $10 million grant from the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) over the next four years to study asbestos exposure pathways that lead to mesothelioma, the bioremediation of this hazardous material, and mechanisms that lead to asbestos-related diseases. One of these, mesothelioma, a rare cancer diagnosed in about 3,000 patients each year, is caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos. The disease is usually fatal with very poor prognosis once diagnosed.

The Penn Superfund Research and Training Program (SRP) Center, which was established by this grant, evolved as a direct consequence of concerns from the community living near the BioRit Asbestos Superfund site in Ambler, PA, about 20 miles north of Philadelphia. CEET is the academic home for the Penn Superfund Center.

NIEHS is a primary stakeholder in the SRP Center, with its sister Superfund programs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

This award is the first NIEHS Superfund grant driven by problems identified in a community-academic partnership. CEET’s Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC) has facilitated bi-directional communication with the Ambler community for the last five years. The communities of West and South Ambler have long been active in studying the ramifications of their town’s long-closed asbestos factory. Residents in these communities remain at risk for environmental exposure and a potentially increased risk of developing mesothelioma.

Ian A. Blair, PhD, professor of Pharmacology, is the director of the Center. CEET director Trevor M. Penning, PhD, professor of Pharmacology is the deputy director of the Center. Christine Shwed is the Center’s administrative coordinator. Researchers from the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC), the Penn School of Arts and Sciences, and Fox Chase Cancer Center are also lead investigators on the grant.

“The work of the Superfund Center is a model of how to bring precision medicine into the realm of environmental health by determining, on an individual basis, who has been exposed to a toxicant and whether they will develop disease,” says Penning.

“I am heartened that the NIEHS has chosen to fund this truly interdisciplinary center, which is uniquely qualified to address the concerns relating to asbestos exposure that have been identified by the Ambler community,” notes Blair.

“This new research and training award is designed to address important asbestos-related issues so that more informed risk and clean-up decisions can be made and shared,” said NIEHS Superfund research program director William Suk, PhD. “This funding of the Penn SRP Center has the potential to help communities affected by asbestos exposures locally and elsewhere.”

Long-term Solutions for a Long-term Problem
From the late 1880s through the present day, Ambler residents have had either occupational or environmental exposure to asbestos. As a result, both current and former residents of the area face potentially serious long-term health consequences. The Pennsylvania Department of Health, with the aid of the COEC, determined that there has been an increase in the rate of mesothelioma in the area compared to the adjacent zip codes, with women having a greater risk than men. The researchers are hopeful that continued investigation and education will yield more information about exposure pathways that led to these health risks.

The new Center will tackle two inter-related environmental science studies and four biomedical science studies. The six projects were designed to address a community-based question or concern that been previously identified by the COEC:
• Can we remediate asbestos without moving it from the original disposal site?
• What do we know about the fate and transport of asbestos in the environment by water and air?
• What do we know about the exposure pathways that were responsible for the mesothelioma cluster in Ambler? And why is the incidence higher in women?
• Is susceptibility to mesothelioma genetic?
• Can asbestos-related disease be prevented?
• Is there a blood test to determine whether a person will get asbestos-related disease?

“The new SRP Center is a great example showing the value of Penn’s Environmental Health Sciences Core Center’s community outreach and engagement activities,” notes NIEHS Core Center program director Claudia Thompson, PhD. “CEET includes two-way communication that spurs new research opportunities to address environmental public health concerns of community residents.”

The environmental projects centering on the remediation of asbestos particles will be conducted by Jane Willenbring, PhD and Brenda Casper, PhD (School of Arts and Sciences) and will use mycrorrhiza fungi to break down asbestos to a new non-toxic mineral form. Studies on the mobility and fate of asbestos particles in streams and rivers will be conducted by Doug Jerolmack, PhD (School of Arts and Sciences) and Willenbring. Methods to detect asbestos in the environment will involve monitoring its movement through soil and water using translucent soil substitutes and a nanoaqaurium. A sociological study to identify how asbestos exposure can occur and whether this can explain the cluster of asbestos-induced mesotheliomas in Ambler will be conducted by Fran Barg and Ted Emmett (Penn Medicine). Although these projects evolved in response to the Ambler community’s concerns, the results could be readily translated to the 15 other Superfund asbestos sites in the US.

The biomedical arm of the Center grant will explore the genetics of mesothelioma susceptibility and develop a blood test for early detection using a mouse model of mesothelioma. Becky Simmons, PhD (Penn Medicine) will be working with Joseph Testa, PhD (Fox Chase) and a tumor-suppressor knockout mouse he has developed. The team will determine if there is genetic predisposition that makes individuals more susceptible to asbestos-induced mesothelioma. The mouse model can be used to test whether the remediated asbestos is less toxic.

Melpo Christofidou-Solomidou, PhD, and Steve Albelda, MD (Penn Medicine) will study how to prevent mesothelioma in mice exposed to asbestos using an antioxidant in flaxseed and also use the flaxseed to treat the mice if they have early signs of mesothelioma. Anil Vachani and Blair will develop a blood test to determine if subjects have been exposed to asbestos and whether they are at risk for developing mesothelioma. In order to do this, they will use blood samples from workers who were heavily exposed to asbestos. These samples will be provided by the National Center for Vermiculite and Asbestos Related Cancer at Wayne State University and by the Philadelphia Insulators and Asbestos Workers Local 14 Union. The mesothelioma blood samples will be provided by the Penn Lung Center and the Mesothelioma and Pleural Program, the National Mesothelioma Virtual Bank, and stored mesothelioma samples held at the Mt. Sinai Medical School in New York.

The Biostatistics Research Core directed by Wei-Ting Wang, PhD (Penn Medicine) will provide the biostatistical expertise for all of the projects and the Research Translational Core directed by Richard Pepino, MSS, and Robert Schenkel, PhD (Penn Center for Innovation) will transmit results of the Center’s activities to the scientific community, regulatory agencies and promote such new technologies as asbestos remediation strategies for commercialization, as well as new prognostic and diagnostic tests for asbestos exposure. The Community Engagement Core directed by Emmett and Barg will transmit all of the findings back to the Ambler community, as well as relaying additional community concerns to Center investigators.

“The new Superfund Center, with its focus on asbestos fate, exposure, remediation, and adverse health effects will significantly complement a Translational Center of Excellence in Thoracic Oncology that has been established within the Abramson Cancer Center,” notes Chi Van Dang, MD, PhD, ACC director. “It will also enrich the Population Sciences Program of the Cancer Center, with its mission of cancer risk assessment.”

“I am delighted that the new Center has been established because it will significantly add to Penn’s translational research portfolio,” noted Garret FitzGerald, MD, FRS, director of Penn’s Institute for Translation Medicine and Therapeutics.
The grant also provides funds to establish a unique interdisciplinary training program, which will marry environmental sciences with environmental health sciences so that doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows will receive training in these complementary disciplines. Unique features of this training include participation in Superfund webinars sponsored by NIEHS and internships in technology transfer at CTT and the EPA.

Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 17 years, according to U.S. News & World Report’s survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2013 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania — recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; Chester County Hospital; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital — the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2013, Penn Medicine provided $814 million to benefit our community.


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Penn Receives $10 Million Award to Study Asbestos Adverse Health Effects, Remediation

Aviation Authority looks to recover losses from asbestos removal

By Liz Segrist
Published May 15, 2014

The Charleston County Aviation Authority’s board is looking to recover losses from nearly $670,000 in asbestos remediation at the Charleston International Airport.

Construction crews discovered the asbestos earlier this year during a renovation project. The waterproofing substance that contained the cancer-causing materials was sandwiched between several brick walls at the front of the airport, said Matt McCoy of Michael Baker Inc. during the authority’s board meeting Thursday.

Construction and asbestos abatement continue as part of the Charleston International Airport’s renovation project. (Photo/Liz Segrist)Construction and asbestos abatement continue as part of Charleston International Airport’s renovation project. (Photo/Liz Segrist)

Previous coverage

Contractors were unaware of it until the walls were demolished as part of the

Terminal Redevelopment Improvement Program

. The aviation authority voted Thursday to approve the $670,000 needed to remove the asbestos from the airport.

The board plans to investigate what company or contractor was responsible for using the asbestos-containing material when the terminal was built in 1982, as well as whether the material that was used was legal at the time.

“The asbestos problem bothers me a lot because it was not expected on our construction project, and it should not have been used in 1982,” Airports Director Paul Campbell said.

Arnold Goodstein, the authority’s legal counsel, said there’s a good chance the authority could get some financial reimbursements if they discover who is responsible for using the materials during construction more than three decades ago.

“Once we dig into it and figure out who provided it and who purchased it, we will go from there,” Goodstein said.

Asbestos abatement will delay project’s completion by one month to September 2015.

The board has allocated roughly $1.85 million of its $11.5 million contingency funds thus far for change orders needed for unexpected changes during the construction process.

2015 fiscal year budget

The authority’s total revenue for fiscal year 2015 is projected to be roughly $38.5 million, up 8% from fiscal year 2014. The authority approved its budget for fiscal year 2015, beginning July 1, during the meeting.

The operating revenue for fiscal year 2015 is projected to increase to roughly $33 million, up 8.1% from the year prior. Revenue from parking fees and rental cars continue to be the largest revenue producers for the authority, Finance Director Judi Olmstead said.

Projected revenue for parking for next year is $10.5 million, up 13.9%. Fuel sales are expected to increase by 23% to roughly $1.3 million in projected revenue.

The authority expects its operating expenses to increase by 5.4% from personnel costs, benefits, administrative services, utilities, contractual services and insurance, professional and legal fees.

The budget includes plans for three staff additions, including a staff attorney that would report to the airports director, a legal assistant and a maintenance planner. There will be five title changes in the engineering department, but they will not impact the budget.

The aviation authority’s budget projections are based, in part, on the $200 million renovation project underway at the airport and an increase in both passengers and flights at the airport.

About 622,000 passengers have arrived or departed from the airport during the first quarter of 2014, up 14.5% from the same time in 2013. For fiscal year 2015, the authority forecasts 2.9 million passengers will pass through the airport.

The airport currently has 18 daily non-stop destinations. The American Airlines and U.S. Airways merger is creating some opportunity at the local airport as the airline shifts around flights.

JetBlue Airways will add two nonstop flights from the Charleston airport to the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport outside Washington, D.C., starting June 19. Southwest is considering the addition of nonstop service to the Charleston airport as well if it acquires two additional gates at Dallas Love Field.

Renovations update

The authority expects that the renovations will have passengers spending more money at the new concessions and shops, as well as renting more cars through the new rental car pavilion.

“About a year from now, you will see a significant change at the airport. … We will be about 80% complete with the project by June,” Campbell said.

The renovation project will upgrade the airport’s baggage claim areas, security checkpoints and terminals, as well as a new rental car center.

The second floor of the Central Energy Plant is now finished. Construction continues at Concourse B for the new B4 gate.

The third new baggage carousel recently opened. The next phase for the baggage claim area will be to raise the ceiling.

Construction has caused some issues for airlines’ baggage operations and the airport looks to finish construction as quickly as possible, said Michael Pena, chairman of the Terminal Redevelopment Improvement Program committee.

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

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Aviation Authority looks to recover losses from asbestos removal