At the New Orleans Municipal and Traffic Court, housed in the Orleans Parish Municipal Court building, a busy courtroom ceiling collapsed closing court for several days. While it was only a portion of the ceiling, the room was closed “as an abundance of caution” because of possible asbestos exposure. The building is located on South Broad Street not far from the French Quarter.
Why did it need to close?
Asbestos is a known carcinogen. It was used to some extent throughout the 20th century – especially leading up to the 1950s through 1970s. It has many qualities that made it seem the perfect choice for insulation, heat protection, and for water-proofing.
Because of its versatility, it was used in almost all commercial, government, and residential construction in those years – shingles, insulation, tiles, and mastic. It was also a component of ship-building, including ships of the U.S. Navy.
Many people and companies were aware of scientific evidence that exposure to asbestos fibers could lead to diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and especially to mesothelioma – a deadly cancer. Yet there were few, if any, protections for workers exposed to asbestos, or warnings to others that disturbing installed asbestos released the fibers and made anyone in the area susceptible to these diseases.
The years that asbestos use was at its height, were also the years of a great deal of building in the US following the end of WWII and through the 1970s. Since the Municipal Courthouse was built during these years, it was necessary that protections were put in place to prevent any spread of asbestos through the collapse of the ceiling.
What should be done if asbestos is found?
Anyone considering demolition of older buildings, or noticing damage to areas that could contain asbestos, should have the building inspected, and if necessary removed, by a company certified in asbestos abatement.