Asbestos-Containing Paint Presents Obstacle in Demolition of Former Sappi Paper Mill

The demolition of a Sappi Paper Mill in Muskegon, Michigan is encountering some complications after the demolition company informed the Muskegon city commissioners of the presence of asbestos in the paint on two smokestacks.  The city commissioners were notified about the asbestos in a work session on March 10.  The outer layer of paint on the smokestacks contains approximately 3% asbestos; the smokestacks are scheduled to be demolished on April 27.

Background Information

Trinity Specialty Services of Atlanta and Melching Inc. are the two demolition companies tasked with the demolition project, which includes bringing down the more than 200-foot-tall smokestacks by using explosives.  The companies plan to totally remove the masonry smokestack material and clean up the ground surrounding the area where the stacks fall.  The paint on the stacks has been deemed “non-friable” material by the state-qualified asbestos inspector, which means that it cannot be crushed with “hand pressure” to create a powder or dust.  Normally, “friable” material that can be crushed with “hand pressure” is considered an asbestos threat because the pressure can release the tiny asbestos fibers that pose multiple health risks, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer.

The Complications

One of the primary concerns whenever asbestos is involved in a demolition project is the potential adverse effect on human health and the environment.  The area is especially sensitive because it is on Muskegon Lake, and therefore any asbestos contamination could have widespread repercussions.

Muskegon city commissioners asked the demolition services if they could provide a “guarantee” that no human exposure or environmental contamination would occur.  Tyson Lahmeyer, Melching’s environmental manager, responded that no one can provide a “100 percent guarantee” of no danger from a project of that size.

However, there are certain precautions that are being taken to minimize the dangers.  Lahmeyer commented that the companies are planning to wet the smokestacks and landing area before and after the implosion in addition to using extensive dust-control misting machines.  He also stressed that “It is not likely any asbestos will become airborne with the demolition” and that “Most of the dust off the demolition will be concrete, but no engineer can say they will stop 100 percent of the dust.”

The Removal Plan

Once the smokestacks are knocked down, the companies plan to use certified asbestos removal technicians to remove the asbestos with covered trucks and transport it to a landfill for disposal.  In addition to the waste material, the disposal operations will also encompass the soils underneath where the stacks are planned to be knocked down.

Melching also plans to have an independent company test the air quality at the demolition site and nearby residential and commercial properties.  Commissioner Willie German Jr. still expressed concerns, asking “But what if there is a release?” and “What are our contingency plans.”  Lahmeyer added that environmental officials project that the air asbestos readings will be far below both state and federally accepted levels.

The city staff will provide the commission with a recommendation to approve or deny the Melching demolition at the March 25 or April 8 commission meeting.

Exposed to Asbestos?

If you have been exposed to asbestos, you may develop potentially life-threatening illnesses, such as mesothelioma or lung disease.  Contact an experienced asbestos attorney to see if you are eligible for compensation.

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