ELMIRA, NY – When, in October of 2007, a fire broke out at what is known in Elmira as the “Ritz Carriage House”, the town’s problems were just beginning. The structure located at 359 W. Church Street, was an addition to a mansion built in 1870 for the town’s wealthiest citizen of the era, shoe factory owner Jackson Richardson. The addition had been built where the mansion’s original carriage house once stood, and at one time, the addition housed the Ritz Beauty Salon, hence the structure’s popular name.
The 2007 fire destroyed most of the addition, and on April 8, 2009, city workers finally demolished the charred remains of the building. Unfortunately, as it was later discovered, the building’s ruins contained asbestos, which is a known cancer causing agent. Once the asbestos had been discovered by health inspectors, the Ritz’s rubble pile remained in place until a suitable asbestos remediation plan had been put in place – on April 17 of this year, specially equipped and garbed workers finally began to clear the asbestos contaminated debris from the site.
Asbestos is a relatively inexpensive and widely available silicate mineral that can be mined from the ground or extracted from various rock formations. The material exists in a variety of colors, types, chemical compositions, etc., though, all forms of the material have been widely used by mankind for thousands of years. Nearly fireproof, asbestos resists damage from chemical and other corrosives, has exceptional insulating qualities and more. Because of its many exceptional properties, asbestos can be found in a myriad of products that are all around us.
It wasn’t until the early 1970s that medical and scientific experts had conclusively proven that exposures to airborne asbestos fibers caused a significant risk to human health. Once these microscopic fibers are inhaled into the lungs, they become permanently lodged there where, many decades later, they can cause serious respiratory diseases such as the aggressive and incurable form of lung cancer known as malignant pleural mesothelioma. Because of the extreme toxicity of asbestos, cleanup workers at the Ritz site will adhere to strict federal and state-mandated asbestos abatement procedures.
The asbestos cleanup at the Church St. site is being done by the LCP Group Demolition Division of the Vestal Company, a fully licensed asbestos abatement firm. LCP owner Larry Pierce said that the asbestos in the debris is mostly nonfriable (non-crushable) asbestos, which means fibers are less likely to become airborne where they become a health hazard. Nevertheless, a New York state environmental official warned the town that nonfriable asbestos can still be a serious health concern if the material is broken up.
Where is the Ritz rubble pile asbestos going in those trucks that have been specially poly-lined to conform to regulations? According to Pierce, the asbestos contaminated debris is being transported to a specialized landfill in Waterloo, NY. “It’s going up to Seneca Meadows, which is permitted to handle asbestos,” said Pierce. Pierce explained that the Waterloo site had 200 of its 2,600 acres dedicated to the state and federal government approved handling of toxic waste such as asbestos.
Air samples taken at the Church St. site have all indicated an absence of asbestos fibers, and Pierce wants to assure Elmira residents that the asbestos abatement work is being done in a safe and professional manner. “Nobody is at risk here,” said Pierce. “The smell at the site was not asbestos, which is a mineral, but from wet wood and possibly some mold that had grown inside the demolished structure.” It should be noted that some city workers who had demolished the Ritz’s burned ruins have raised concerns about their own risk to health, though, Elmira Mayor John Tonello recently said that the city worker’s health and safety had never been jeopardized.
Source: Elmira Star-Gazette