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Neighbors Near Asphalt Plant Worried about Asbestos

Eleven years ago, residents of Grimesdale, North Carolina fought the building of an asphalt plant in their neighborhood but lost the battle. Already plagued by smoke, bad odors, and noise from the plant, the residents are now concerned about the new owner’s bid to obtain a permit that will allow him to recycle shingles as part of the asphalt production at the site. They’re major concern is the presence of asbestos in those shingles.

According to an article in the Times-News online edition, Grimesdale Homeowners Association President Chuck Mason recently sent a letter to local and state officials advising them of residents’ concerns, which include the health risks of living in a neighboring near a plant that may be releasing asbestos fibers into the air. They also called upon the state Division of Air Quality (DAQ), asking the agency to demand that the new owner – the Rogers Group – adhere to all federal Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act regulations. Suggestions made by the homeowners included enclosing the entire plant and the need for a complete and effective plan that would control any dust emissions as well as odors and water run-off.

“We just want it done in a way that doesn’t create hazards either in the water or in the air for the people that are around there, and that includes the homes as well as the people in [nearby] Berkeley Park,” Mason stated.

State officials have told residents of Grimesdale that there’s no need to worry that the change in the plant’s operations will cause them any harm. But neighbors are questioning the testing that will be put in place to insure that there is no asbestos in the roofing shingles that will be recycled. Specifically, they worry that not enough testing will be done to keep asbestos out of the mix.

“The permit requires that shingles recycled at the plant be asbestos-free with documentation to prove they have been tested,” said Harold Brady, who is an inspector with the DAQ regional office in Asheville. The permit states that one sample per 100 tons will be tested. That’s just not enough, say locals.

“A roof might generate one, two, maybe three tons of shingles, so if you only sample one out of every hundred (tons), you might get 20 or 30 different roofs going into your process before you hit the next batch that you sample,” Mason complained.

The Rogers Group, however, maintains that they will consistently monitor air quality around the plant. But even a study by the EPA indicates that there should be some concern. The study noted that “the occurrence of asbestos in tear-off shingles from residential re-roofing projects will be minimal, but that the recycling facility operator should expect to encounter asbestos-containing material on occasion and thus should be adequately prepared to monitor and manage such debris.”

Asbestos was often used in roofing shingles and myriad other building products throughout much of the 20th century. Though asbestos is no longer a component in these products, many homes and commercial buildings are still full of materials containing the hazardous mineral. When asbestos is ground up or otherwise damaged, it releases tiny fibers into the air. These sharp fibers are easy to inhale and can become lodged in the lung area, eventually causing scarring, asbestosis, or the cancer known as pleural mesothelioma.