The Idaho Transportation Department has agreed to pay a $52,000 fine after demolishing an asbestos-containing building in northern Idaho and potentially exposing the public to the cancer-causing fibers.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the agreement Thursday involving the November demolition of the state-owned building in Priest River.
The federal agency said the state agency failed to check for asbestos before the demolition, and the EPA only learned of the demolition after receiving a public complaint. An inspector checked the debris pile and found materials with up to 55 percent asbestos.
Asbestos causes lung cancer and other diseases.
“We don’t know if workers were exposed in this case,” said John Pavitt of the EPA. “There was no monitoring going on.”
He noted that the demolition took place at a well-traveled intersection with gas stations, possibly exposing passers-by.
In a similar event, the state agency agreed to pay $57,000 in June 2014 after demolishing an asbestos-laden building in the eastern Idaho city of Rigby.
“We share the EPA’s concern regarding workers, supervisors and public at large in terms of the health risks posed by asbestos,” said Reed Hollinshead, ITD spokesman, in a statement via email. “ITD is committed to public safety, and the department will take every possible measure moving forward to ensure that safety.”
Pavitt said in his conversations with the Idaho Transportation Department there appeared to be some miscommunication between districts, but state officials told him they were working to solve that.
“I do have the impression that they are more aware of it now,” Pavitt said. “They shared with me some changes they’re making.”
He said a state engineer will now sign off to make sure an asbestos survey has been conducted before a demolition takes place.
In the northern Idaho case, about two dump truck loads of contaminated material had to be removed from the site. It’s not clear how much that cost.
Pavitt said it’s often cheaper to do an asbestos survey first to identify problem materials to be removed rather than have to remove an entire debris pile after demolition.
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