Demoing Old New York Library Raises Asbestos Concerns
Demoing of the old Tompkins County Public Library facility at 310-314 North Cayuga Street, Ithaca, New York, is set to begin. However, the library dates back to 1867 and environmental activists and local residents are concerned about releasing harmful asbestos in the process. The building contains high levels of the carcinogen.
Asbestos spreads easily once it is exposed and inhalation of fibers can cause serious and fatal illnesses including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Asbestos-related liability also remains an ongoing concern for many companies who are still in business and chose to use it as insulation before the risks were evident. Most have banned its use in newer builds.
Walter Hang, who works with Toxics Targeting, expressed concern that the current method of demolition will result in toxic dust spreading into the surrounding community. Instead of removing asbestos before demoing the building, the plan is to undergo abatement during the project.
“The proposed demolition of the abandoned library without removing extensive asbestos-containing materials documented inside the building would almost certainly release cancer-causing asbestos into a residential neighborhood where thousands of schoolchildren, residents, and commuters walk by the site each day,” Hang said, adding, “It would just be an unbelievable demolition disaster to knock down this building and simply try to wet down this asbestos material in an area which…is the home of thousands of people.”
Toxics Targeting has released a coalition letter requesting Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick to require removal of the toxin prior to demolition, and the letter currently has over 300 signatories.
The City of Ithaca condemned the library in September of this year because of unsafe structural conditions. It was previously scheduled to undergo extensive abatement, involving completely sealing the building in a wrap that prevents dust from escaping, but this plan was halted after it was condemned. Hang wants Myrick to mandate that the developer temporarily restore parts of the building to implement the original plan.
Travis Hyde Properties, a local renting and development company, purchased the property in September 2017. Frost Travis, president of Travis Hyde Properties, agreed that the abatement method is the best way to deal with asbestos in a building like the old library. However, Travis said that abatement during demolition was “the only method” plausible in this case and its structural engineers had certified that stabilizing the building first was “simply not a possibility.”
“You would be putting construction workers and abatement workers in harm’s way if you attempt to do that,” he said. “It’s just not a viable, feasible option.”
Toxic Targeting claims that Delta Engineers, the consultant Travis Hyde Properties hired, told the group that securing the roof actually was a possibility prior to demoing.
Chris Latreille, the public engineer who recommended the building be condemned, added that while “anything is possible,” trying to secure the building would put workers at risk. He added, “I accessed a small portion of the roof and I didn’t feel comfortable walking on it.”
During the demolition, project and air monitoring will be put into place to track air quality to detect potential asbestos, but Hang doesn’t trust it.
“The amount of monitoring is so meager, you can see the dust blowing up the property. You can literally see the material escaping the site,” he said. “There’s no requirement to do post demolition testing.”