Charleston, South Carolina - An anonymous complaint to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) prompted a visit to the former Charleston Naval Base last week, where inspectors found that demolition work had unearthed steam pipes wrapped in asbestos.
According to an article in the Post and Courier, the work appeared to be going along smoothly until someone on the site began to suspect that the steam pipe insulation may be dangerous. The caller was correct. After inspectors took a look at the site, they confirmed that there was indeed asbestos-containing material wrapped around the pipes. They immediately shut down the operation.
The article reports that the work site is a fenced yard that is located just south of the base’s former power plant. Asbestos materials were a common site in power plants for much of the 20th century because they were considered a good conductor of heat and could be used to insulate not only pipes but also electrical wires and a variety of types of equipment and machinery commonly used inside such plants, including generators.
DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley believes the material currently is not a threat to public health. It may, however, have posed a threat to those working on the site that may have come into direct contact with the carcinogen.
“It appears to be controlled situation there,” he said. “It’s contained. We don’t see any threat [to the public] that still exists.”
The former Charleston Naval Base is now owned by the Noisette Company, who hired AAA Metal Company to remove the pipes. Apparently, AAA did not have the proper permits for asbestos removal. Hence, the company will now need to remedy the situation by hiring a licensed abatement contractor. First, however, the area needs to be cleaned up and decontaminated.
It’s also likely that Noisette and/or AAA Metal will be fined for their oversights, though no one is sure just how much. In some cases, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has levied fines as high as $25,000 per day for such violations.
“I wouldn’t want to speculate on [fines]” said Beasley, “but our No. 1 concern right now is to just get the job done right and protect the health of individuals there, as well as the health of the surrounding environment.”
Both civilians and Navy enlisted who worked on naval bases throughout the United States, especially during and after World War II, are prime candidates for asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer. That’s because the material was commonly used not only aboard ships built by the U.S. Navy but also in naval ground facilities. As a matter of fact, veterans have one of the highest rates of mesothelioma of any group in the U.S.