Left Behind

Bellefontaine Neighbors residents have lived -- and died -- with asbestos for years. The problem's an open secret, but little has been done.

It hadn't.


In 1995, after they were warned that Maline Creek could be designated a federal Superfund site, CertainTeed and GAF enrolled in the state's voluntary-cleanup program.

Drew Tucker
Maline Creek flooded in 1993, washing asbestos debris over a large area.
Maline Creek flooded in 1993, washing asbestos debris over a large area.

It was a shrewd move.

Under a voluntary cleanup, a company submits a plan to the state, hires contractors and oversees the site. Generally, at a Superfund site, the EPA devises the plan, hires the contractor and gives the companies the bill.

"We are more flexible," Chibnall says. "The participant in the voluntary-cleanup program maintains a lot more control; the Superfund will tell you exactly what to do, so you're looking at three times the cost."

But from the beginning, CertainTeed, GAF and their lawyers balked at many of DNR's requests. For example, Chibnall was concerned about a playground area near the site and wanted the companies to pay for additional soil testing. But CertainTeed's lawyer, Doug McLeod, balked at the request that his client pay the bill. In a letter to Chibnall in May 1996, McLeod wrote: "The area you describe lies outside of the site we have submitted to the Voluntary Cleanup Program.... Please do not interpret our comments as indicating that CertainTeed does not care about potential asbestos exposure to children."

Chibnall says he didn't press the issue, and instead the state paid for the testing, which he says didn't reveal asbestos exceeding the limit of 1 percent in soil.

And there were even more hotly contested issues.

"Some of the things they really kicked and screamed about," Chibnall says.

The biggest bone of contention was Roger Randolph's insistence that twenty feet of sand be poured behind a retaining wall. The companies wanted to use the dirt from the site as fill.

Randolph also wanted the excavated material disposed of in a sanitary landfill. The companies refused. The state then proposed that only material that was tested and found to contain asbestos material be sent to an asbestos landfill. The companies still refused. State regulators retreated further with a proposal that testing on the soil would be done if the naked eye could detect asbestos contamination. If no contamination was seen, the soil could be used as fill behind the retaining wall.

"Their attorneys didn't like, basically, what was going on; they thought we were being erroneous," Chibnall says. So the companies went straight to Steve Mahfood, head of the DNR, to complain about the requirements.

That brought an irate response from Randolph, the state official who'd been the most critical of the companies' efforts. In an internal memo dated May 20, 1998, to John A. Young, the DNR's director of environmental quality, Randolph wrote that what the companies proposed "does not meet sanitary landfill standards. That is, when we bury household waste it has to be buried better than this hazardous material."

Chibnall says that after the companies met with Mahfood, the negotiations were sent back down to the program directors to handle. But the sand filter that Randolph wanted was eventually killed.

Ultimately, soil excavated from the site and sand were used as fill between the wall and bank, so long as one couldn't see any asbestos material in it. The fill was ten feet thick.

The project, which is estimated to have cost the companies approximately $2.1 million, was finished in June 2001. Each company deposited $5,000 with the DNR to fund annual inspections of the site. The only thing left is for deed restrictions prohibiting residential development on the property to be recorded.

Chibnall declared the cleanup a success. But when asked whether an asbestos-waste site would be allowed on a similar site in the future, he is unequivocal.

"Oh God, no. No." he says.

"Quite frankly, no one would let them build such a landfill in the floodplain. There's just not enough control there. It is just a bad site."


Asbestos is virtually indestructible. The only way known to safely dispose of it is to bury it. But asbestos material, particularly crumbling asbestos waste, must stay buried, and that seems to be one of the many problems facing Bellefontaine Neighbors, not only on the banks of Maline Creek but in residents' backyards.

Reports of asbestos exposure roll into the county health department regularly. But nobody has conducted a survey to gauge the problem of buried asbestos waste in the community.

And there are still visible signs of old asbestos-cement pipe around the area today.

On St. Cyr Road, nestled between the old CertainTeed plant (now Branch Metals) and the GAF plant, are four small houses, with backyards abutting the plant property, that have asbestos-cement pipe lining the driveway. Some of the pipes are in better shape than others.

Sarah Denen, who lives in one of the houses, says that the homes were originally built for the plant foremen; her husband, who died of asbestosis several years ago, was one of them. He brought the pipe home and put it in as lawn decoration -- and there it is today.

There aren't any known health studies on cancer rates in the area -- only anecdotes and lawsuits. Mayor Rudloff says his mother died of lung cancer; both of John Duerbusch's parents died of lung cancer; Marian Dishon, whose home was in a federal buyout program after the flood, died of lung cancer. Many of those people also smoked.

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