Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Will 2013 Demolition Result in Asbestos Cancer Claims in the Future?

February 7, 2014

Minneapolis, MN While many an asbestos lawsuit stems from an individual working in an industrial setting whereby there is alleged exposure to the known carcinogen, the potential for exposure is not limited to such industrial applications. Other sectors, such as the renovation industry, can provide such hazards. And sometimes just being in the wrong place at the wrong time could prove lethal decades down the road.

To that end, a Minneapolis-based demolition company was recently fined when it allowed clouds of dust to drift to nearby businesses following the razing of a late-1800s building located in that city’s Warehouse District. According to a report published in the Star Tribune (1/30/14), Ramsey Excavating knew that the old building contained asbestos.

The question, now, surrounds the long-term health and fate of any workers or visitors to those businesses, or passersby who may have been in the vicinity and might have inhaled some of the dust. Will they be facing asbestos mesothelioma in 30 years?

The demolition company was accused of using improper procedures when it tore down the old building in the spring of last year. It should be noted that the dust was not analyzed for asbestos, and the penalty paid by the contractor was for allowing the dust to escape (rather than ensure it was contained), and not for any potential asbestos content.

However, prior to the demolition of the building, Ramsey Excavating informed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) that there was, indeed, asbestos in the 119-year-old building.

Will there be emerging cases of asbestos cancer? It’s quite possible. According to the report, an MPCA inspector witnessed dust generated during the demolition originating from one area of the demolition site. The dust was described as blowing into the adjoining street and drifting toward and to neighboring businesses.

The report further stated that a worker was seen to be spraying water on the demolition debris with a single fire hose, but that the effort was not adequate to prevent the dust from migrating away from the site. The report included an observation that debris containing asbestos was seen to have lingered for four days, in late April 2013, before it was ultimately processed for disposal. The MPCA levied a penalty against the excavator for $10,000 - a penalty that was for visible emissions, according to the president of the 15-year-old excavation company. “It was not confirmed,” that the dust actually contained asbestos, Al Ramsey said in comments published in the Star Tribune. Sean O’Connor, a representative of the MPCA, who conducted the inspection on site, confirmed that “there was no analytic sampling of the dust” to determine whether or not it contained the carcinogen that can cause asbestosis if inhaled.

A spokeswoman for the MPCA, Alexis Donath, confirmed in comments published in the Star Tribune that “we don’t know about the content of the dust that Sean observed.

“The dust is gone.”

But has the damage been done? With demolition debris that admittedly contained asbestos allowed to linger in a pile for four days, how many people might have been affected? The inspection conducted by O’Connor was just one day - April 29, 2013 - during which O’Connor witnessed dust migration.

Provided the dust, originating from a pile of debris that contained asbestos, may have itself contained asbestos, anyone working within the vicinity or even passing by might have been exposed, leaving the possibility of future claims for asbestos compensation 20 or 30 years down the road.

In an unrelated case, the Supreme Court of Virginia recently dismissed the appeal of an asbestos mesothelioma lawsuit that saw a prior jury award to the family of a retired shipbuilder upheld. According to Virginia Lawyers Weekly (11/18/13), John Bristow had worked for Newport News Shipbuilding for 37 years, prior to retiring as a design engineer. Bristow succumbed to Mesothelioma in 2011 at the age of 68. A jury awarded his family $9.18 million in asbestos compensation.

One wonders if similar awards will be forthcoming 30 years from now, for plaintiffs who might have been simply walking by 643 N. 5th Street in late April 2013 in Minneapolis. They may never know what hit them for another 30 years. And then it will be too late…