Four years ago this month we stood on the streets of Fort Worth, Texas with a disparate group of men and women held together by one thing: the knowledge that asbestos kills.
"We" were attorneys and concerned staffers from Baron & Budd, construction workers, nearby residents and a representative from a union that had been hit hard by asbestos. Standing next to an apartment complex as it was being readied for demolition, we held signs, spoke to a few reporters and handed out flyers to neighbors.
But as hard as we tried, we could not stop the experimental demolition of the asbestos-filled Oak Hollow apartments on Boca Raton Boulevard. In fact, we couldn’t get most residents to come to their doors (could it have been that this experiment was carried out in a low income area and people were busy surviving?) — and we sure couldn’t get the city council to pay attention (Baron & Budd, including this writer, attended the meeting).
Of course, the party line back then was that this was a safe demolition. Never mind that this was the first actual demolition using the wet method in an urban area. All safety required was a heavy spray of water prior to demolition, then those asbestos fibers were going to miraculously dissipate without becoming airborne.
It has been known for decades that the microscopic fibers of asbestos, if disturbed, are easily airborne and that millions of fibers exist in an area as small as a penny. That’s the reason asbestos is so dangerous – once it is inhaled or ingested, it can slip through your body’s protective systems and head straight to the lungs or stomach where it manages, over a period of decades, to do maximum damage.
We knew that back in December 2007; we fought back in 2007; the large apartment complex was demolished in 2007. And now, in 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an Early Warning Report stating that, indeed, asbestos fibers were released during the Fort Worth demolition and that public health may have been threatened.
But even this admission has not been without a fight. Public Justice, a national public advocacy group, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the underlying data about the experiments, yet the EPA did not release most of the documents — more than 26,000 pages — until after the groups sued to force disclosure.
Unfortunately, no one can undo the asbestos exposure that occurred in Fort Worth when unsuspecting people happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. There is no magic pill that erases asbestos in your body, just as there is no magic water that will cause asbestos to somehow safely dissipate.
That is why adherence to safe methods of asbestos removal is absolutely critical. And why we need to heed, once and for all, what we already know: asbestos kills.