Asbestos Found to be Contaminating Areas in Town of Davidson

Emma Tayloe – On Thursday, April 4th, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and local North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hosted a community meeting to address plans for the remediation of asbestos contamination in the town of Davidson. In addition to representatives from the EPA and the DEQ, Mayor John Woods and other town officials, a handful of Davidson students, professors, and staff, and dozens of community members attended the discussion in the Gethsemane Baptist Church, which sits on the I-77 side of the Griffith Street Harris Teeter.

The source site building, originally the Linden cotton mill, was built around 1890 and was occupied by Carolina Asbestos from 1930 to 1960 (1). In February 1984, the Mecklenburg County Department of Environmental Health was notified of potential asbestos contamination in the mill’s immediate vicinity and, upon testing the soil, determined that asbestos had been exposed since an earlier attempt to cover it (2). By July of that year, the contaminated soil was covered again (2).

The former mill is currently owned by Metrolina Warehouse LLC., a Seattle-based property management firm (3). The Miller Valentine Group, a residential development firm out of Cincinnati, has plans to develop the property into a four-story apartment complex (3). The developer has been communicating with the DEQ to determine the extent of the asbestos contamination and the work required to address it.

Angela Miller, a community involvement coordinator for the EPA, said that the DEQ contacted the EPA to request sampling of residential properties near the Metrolina property in connection with its potential development. According to a map dated March 22, 2017, which was made available by the EPA at the Thursday community meeting, asbestos was detected at properties along Eden Street, Depot Street, and behind Sadler Square. Miller stated that of the seventyeight properties sampled by the EPA, twenty required “further action” to remediate asbestos contamination.

Asbestos poses a health risk when it is inhaled, thus keeping asbestos buried would theoretically protect humans from the dangers associated with its exposure (4). However, once buried, asbestos can reemerge in a number of ways. A popular theory to explain the reappearance of asbestos in Davidson in the 1980s is that a groundhog buried into an asbestos cap and pulled asbestos to the surface, which rain and wind then spread (1).

At Thursday’s community meeting, Jordan Garrard, on-scene coordinator for the EPA, warned of the potential a “severe rain event” has to wash away the topsoil and re-expose asbestos. Of particular concern is the hill behind the warehouse, which is vulnerable to erosion. Digging into the ground for utility maintenance or new construction could also disseminate the asbestos.

Asbestos has been linked to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis (4). The main cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure (5) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that between 1999 and 2005, over 18,000 Americans died of malignant mesothelioma (6). Some estimates of total deaths attributable to asbestos exposure are far higher; the Environmental Working Group estimates that 10,000 Americans die every year from diseases caused by asbestos (7). Most people who die of asbestos related illness are white men, presumably because of exposure through work in construction, installation, or mills (6).

The asbestos contamination in Davidson, a residential area, is uncommon. At the community meeting, Garrard noted that typical asbestos remediation sites are industrial properties.

Eighty-six-year-old Evelyn Carr has lived in Davidson for her whole life. When asked about the impact asbestos has had on the community, Carr said “…my daddy died from it, my husband died from it. That whole lot up there ain’t nothing but asbestos.” Multiple people at the community meeting, including Mayor John Woods, recalled playing, during their childhood, on what some now call “asbestos hill.”

The EPA has committed to sample the yards of residents upon their request and to remediate asbestos contamination this summer. Garrard stated that funding has already been allocated for asbestos remediation in Davidson and that potential federal cuts to the EPA budget would not have an impact on the project.

The responsibility to clean up the source site, however, falls on the owner. It is unlikely that any long-term steps will be taken to remediate the asbestos contamination on the mill property unless it is required by the state as part of a plan for developing the property.

Attendees of the community meeting expressed mixed reactions to the prospect of remediation and development. Business owners in the region, who could stand to benefit from development of the Metrolina property, expressed worry about the effects of the EPA’s presence and of asbestos remediation efforts on business operations. Specifically, business owners expressed concern about the impact EPA operations would have on both customer and delivery parking near the Metrolina property. Garrard said that businesses would be allowed to remain open, but some roads around the Metrolina property may be closed during the remediation period.

Evelyn Carr voiced worry about the impact increased traffic would have on the residents. Carr was particularly concerned about children crossing the street, stating, “They not thinking about the children. That’s what really, really bothers me.”

Development of the Metrolina property could contribute to gentrification of the town by driving up property taxes and expanding residential and commercial spaces. These spaces will likely be more expensive than many long-time residents of the town can afford.

The EPA expects to be involved in cleaning asbestos yards through August, although Garrard noted that the project could face unexpected roadblocks and delays. In all likelihood, asbestos contamination of the Metrolina warehouse will not be addressed unless, or until, it is developed.

If you are interested in obtaining more information, please contact emtayloe@davidson.edu.

Citations:

(1)http://wfae.org/post/davidson-mill-redevelopment- unearths-asbestos-old-tensions

(2)http://www.lakenormanpublications.com/ herald_weekly/old-asbestos-concern-affectsnew- project/article_8090e85c-6a52-11e6-a523- 0f22102fee6d.html

(3) https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causesprevention/ risk/substances/asbestos/asbestosfact- sheet#q3

(4)https://www.epa.gov/asbestos/learn-aboutasbestos# exposed

(5)https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignantmesothelioma/ causes-risks-prevention/whatcauses. html

(6)https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/ mmwrhtml/mm5815a3.htm (7)http://www.ewg.org/asbestos/facts/fact1.php