In February 2018, disturbed asbestos was discovered in the historic county jailhouse, leading to the evacuation of nine employees. The plaster was damaged during Hurricane Harbor. The evacuated employees moved their temporary office to the Grady Tuck Building on Loop 150. In March, tests on the Grady Tuck building found more asbestos. In a restroom and a mechanical room used for storage, more asbestos was discovered and was sealed and will require abatement.
Why do these buildings contain asbestos?
Asbestos was a material used extensively for construction from the 1930s until 1980. It was viewed as a miracle mineral for its many useful properties, such as heat resistance and flexibility. Though some questioned its safety from the earliest days of use, companies judged its benefits outweighed the possible consequences for anyone subjected to exposure from the fibers.
County Judge Paul Pape said, “A lot of these county buildings were remodeled during a time when asbestos was the material of choice. So, as we remodel them and find work to do on them, we’re going to run into that. It’s not unusual. It’s not the first time we’ve run into it and it’s not the last time.”
Asbestos is dangerous
Asbestos left undisturbed does not disperse fibers into the air, but many circumstances can change that, such as storm damage, remodeling, or aging. Once disturbed, the microscopic fibers are easily inhaled into the lungs potentially leading to deadly diseases, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, in the future.
What will be done to protect employees?
One of the first actions is training for county staff. People need to be aware of areas that often contain the mineral, such as insulation, plaster, ceiling tiles, and mastic on tiles and linoleum.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency ordered the test of air quality in the jailhouse because of the Hurricane Harvey damage. Only minimal asbestos fibers were found during the test and fibers that landed on desks, file cabinets and other office equipment were cleaned or disposed of if the infiltration was too intense to clean.
Requests for qualifications were sent to nine historic architectural firms for asbestos abatement and remodeling of the late 19th century jailhouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The county courthouse, another historic building, was also tested. Only one out of 57 samples tested positive for asbestos and it was at a very low lever, although asbestos is dangerous no matter how small the area or how long the exposure.
DIY homeowners should be alert
This is not only an issue for government and commercial buildings. Most homes built in the same era also contain asbestos. Before any remodeling begins, the first step should be an inspection by a qualified abatement company. Health is worth the price of abatement.