What was once touted as a creative, cost-saving, asbestos abatement “experiment” by Fort Worth (TX) city officials has been dropped.

On October 13, the city abandoned the heavily criticized “wet method” plan and announced that it would follow National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) when it tears down the dilapidated, asbestos-infested Cow Town Inn early next year.

The city’s initial plan unraveled after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rescinded its tentative authorization for the city to demolish the abandoned Inn without employing safeguards normally required under federal regulations. The city proposed to spray water on the site during demolition, claiming that the water would prevent microscopic asbestos fibers from becoming airborne and inhaled by clean-up workers and local residents.

LIUNA General President
Terry O’Sullivan

The EPA withdrew its authorization only after a series of internal memos were leaked to the media in April. In the memos, EPA scientists asserted that no credible science supported the city’s contention that its so-called “wet method” would prevent an airborne asbestos hazard. Further, the scientists criticized the shoddiness of the experiment’s proposed monitoring and tracking methodology.

The memos were leaked as local residents, local unions, environmental health professionals and a former NIOSH administrator questioned the plan. A public protest was staged in May.

The Cow Town Inn was acquired by the city after it was abandoned by its private owners 15 years ago. It is an eyesore and an attractive nuisance. City officials and local residents have talked often, over the years, of tearing it down.

However, due to its asbestos insulation, the anticipated cost of demolition was high. NESHAP regulations require a specially trained workforce, substantial protective equipment and careful removal and disposal to prevent air contamination. The city has now budgeted $1.1 million for the project.

Given the high cost of doing the job according to federal regulations, some analysts questioned whether the proposed experiment was an experiment at all or, simply, an attempt to find a cheaper way to do the demolition by circumventing the long-established, hazardous waste abatement rules.

Such questions proliferated after it was discovered, in July, that the EPA had authorized “wet method” asbestos removal at the St. Louis airport expansion project. Though that work had already begun, the EPA quickly reversed itself, and federal rules now govern that demolition as well.

“I understand the desire of cities to find a cheaper way to remove asbestos,” said LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, who had spoken out previously against the Fort Worth plan. “Many of them own tax-delinquent, asbestos-filled properties. However, it is the duty of the EPA to protect the environment, the public and, also, in particular, the workers who risk their health to remove this dangerous material. Unfortunately, the EPA continues to ignore the science and allows financial considerations to dominate its judgment. LIUNA must remain vigilant to protect our members, their families and the general public from such actions.”

[Steve Clark]