Worshippers at the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Hickory, North Carolina, received a surprise during services last Sunday. The roof of the main auditorium collapsed, sending twelve parishioners to the hospital. Pieces of blue-green roof insulation fell to the floor during the debris, which sparked the fear that the material could contain asbestos. The church was constructed in 1958, decades before scientists established the link between asbestos exposure and lung diseases.
Pastor Antonio Logan told newspapers that the incident happened without warning. Nearly one hundred fifty churchgoers were seated for the 11AM service when a section of the ceiling near the back of the room fell on several attendees. Pastor Logan complimented the efforts of the emergency response teams, including paramedics, police and firefighters, who responded to the collapse. None of those sent to the hospital required an overnight stay and all were released late Sunday night.
The area around the church is surrounded by yellow tape, warning away curious onlookers. The building will remain closed pending an investigation by local building inspectors. In addition to ascertaining a cause for the collapse, the investigation will determine if the fallen ceiling insulation contains asbestos. During the years the church was built, numerous construction projects used asbestos in materials for insulation, fireproofing and temperature regulation due to its high resistance to heat.
Joel Herman, the interim chief of building services for Catawba County, said that they would send samples of the ceiling insulation material to a local environmental testing laboratory to determine if it contains asbestos. Results from those tests may not be available for as many as ten days after the lab receives the material samples.
Mr. Herman also said that, if the tests do not show any asbestos contamination, he said that the inspectors would evaluate the status of the structure to determine if it could be repaired or should be demolished. However, if the material tests positive for asbestos, the county and the church would examine their options for remediation of the site. State and federal regulations require that workers participating in any project requiring the handling and disposal of asbestos must use proper precautions to insure worker safety and environmental quality.
Mr. Herman mentioned that any investigation into the cause of the collapse would have to wait until county officials received the results of the materials tests. He also said that local inspectors do not carry out routine inspections. The building did undergo repair work on its ceiling nearly sixteen years ago, but no one is speculating as to whether or not that project is related to the recent collapse.
Pastor Logan said that other area churches have offered the use of their buildings while Friendship Missionary Baptist is closed. He told the press that he appreciated the offers and that they showed “humanity (and) Christianity”. He also said that he will await the test results to decide if they will have services at another sanctuary or in the current building’s basement.
Sources: Charlotte Observer, Hickory Record