The News Item
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Larry Deklinski/Staff Photo A member of the Environmental Protection Agency collects samples Wednesday to be tested for asbestos at the site of the former Shamokin Health Spa, in the 700 block of North Shamokin Street, Shamokin. The buildings were torn down in June following a partial collapse.

EPA investigating report of asbestos in Shamokin demolition pile

SHAMOKIN - Samples of building debris from a demolition site on North Shamokin Street were collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wednesday to be tested for asbestos.

Two agency employees were at the site in the 700 block, one collecting samples and bagging them and the other assisting.

Suspect samples were shared with the city code enforcement officer so that both the EPA and the city can commission separate independent laboratory analyses, said City Clerk Steve Bartos.

Bartos said Monday that Madonna Enterprises, Port Carbon, is expected to mobilize equipment at the site this week to remove the debris. All of it will be treated as if it's contaminated with asbestos, he said, and will be disposed of at a landfill permitted to accept such material.

Donna Heron, an EPA spokesperson, said Wednesday the agency learned of the demolition of the former Shamokin Health Spa and an adjacent building when contacted Monday by The News-Item, which has been doing interviews related to the situation.

"It seemed prudent for us to send an inspector out," she said.

No great concern

Long-term exposure to asbestos can pose serious health risks. However, Heron said city residents, even those living in the vicinity of the demolition site, should not be overly concerned.

"All of the health risks that we know of all have to do with long-term exposure," meaning over the course of many years, she said.

"It's not something that residents really should be concerned about, but at the same time, it is potentially a health risk that we want to make sure is properly taken care of."

Heron said it is not known if debris removal is permitted while testing of EPA's samples occurs, and she did not have a timetable for return of the test results.

Demolition had begun in mid-June under emergency order after a partial building collapse, but Heron said both the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the EPA must be notified of such a project at least 10 days prior or, in the event of an emergency, no later than the following work day.

While DEP was notified of the demolition, according to the department's northcentral region director, Heron said EPA was not.

City contracts for removal

The demolition project was officially ordered stopped July 3 when the city and Robert Gusick Demolition, Shamokin, became embroiled in a dispute regarding a $98,500 invoice submitted by the contractor. Work at the site has remained dormant ever since, and the invoice dispute remains unsettled.

Requirements for advertising and seeking contract bids for the work were negated since the situation was under emergency order, Theresa Elliot, deputy press secretary, Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), told The News-Item in August.

Municipal entities are required to seek bids for work exceeding $18,500 under legislation signed into law in November 2011. The threshold had been $10,000 prior to that.

Madonna is performing debris removal at an approximate cost of $8,900, Bartos said. It was the lowest of two estimates, the second coming from Northeast Industrial Services Corp., Shamokin, which estimated the work would cost $33,440, he said.

Those estimates were received by the city Sept. 10, after which council acted to employ Madonna, he said.

City officials previously reported the building was owned by the William G. Porto estate before being turned over for back taxes to the county tax claims bureau. City council is now seeking to acquire ownership of the land.

Citizen takes samples

Matt Stevens, of Shamokin, who works for a company that has performed asbestos abatement services at other city demolition projects, on Friday provided a certified laboratory analysis of a sample he says he recovered from the demolition site following an August meeting of city council. He alleged during the meeting that asbestos was at the site, but Bartos said he had no solid proof.

Stevens says he left the meeting, went to the site and took a piece of insulation wrapped around a water pipe, placed it in a cellophane wrapper and had it tested.

An Aug. 31 report from a federally accredited testing laboratory showed that one of three samples had a 70-percent makeup of asbestos. Stevens said the material is "friable," which means asbestos fibers can be spread by wind.

Bartos said results of the analysis were never shared with the city. He also questioned if the sample was authentic and said, even if it is, there is no documented "chain of custody" to prove as much.

Stevens is employed by Forrester Environmental Inc., an asbestos abatement company in Bloomsburg. He says he is experienced in asbestos abatement through his job, and that he purchased the analysis through his firm as any customer could.

His father, Robert Gilligbauer, has been at odds with the city for years over operations at his city garage. Stevens said his father's history with city officials should have no bearing on the matter that asbestos may exist at the demolition site, but Bartos contends the relationship is the driving force behind Stevens seeking a laboratory analysis. He said it was done to antagonize city officials and not out of concern for city residents.

DEP suspected asbestos

Marcus Kohl, DEP northcentral region director, said in an interview Monday that a waste inspector visited the dormant demolition site in late summer after receiving complaints from residents about potential health risks.

The inspector, he said, discovered material at the site he believed to contain asbestos. A sample wasn't analyzed in a laboratory, he said; rather, it was a visual assessment by the inspector based on his ample experience, Kohl said.

After the site visit by DEP, which Kohl believed to have occurred in late August or early September, he said the city was told to clean up the debris immediately. That's when the city moved on getting estimates for the removal.

DEP officials returned to the site Tuesday and provided the city written instructions on the proper removal of asbestos.

Kohl said there is no indication the city was aware there was asbestos at the site when the demolition occurred. Also, he said they are "not in violation" because of the pile.

Of the demolition project, he said, requirements for dealing with asbestos were initially forestalled since the building posed a risk of collapsing into North Shamokin Street.

"The demolition itself followed protocol for emergency situations," he said.

He provided an asbestos abatement and demolition/renovation notification form submitted to DEP by Robert Gusick Demolition on June 20. While DEP was notified, it came after the demolition began and was not within the required 10-day window or, as referenced by EPA's Heron since it was an emergency, on the next work day.

An asbestos abatement professional was not on hand during demolition, Rick Bozza, city code officer said, but the area was being sprayed with water by Liberty Hose Co. personnel to prevent dust from spreading. Such a maneuver would also prevent asbestos that could become airborne, if it were at the site, from spreading through the air, as well.

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