$4 Million Asbestos Project Begun at Billings Courthouse

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

A $4 million asbestos removal project has begun at the former federal courthouse located in downtown Billings. Asbestos exists in numerous portions of the building material. The hazardous chemical is being removed by Spray Systems of Arizona.

“The asbestos removal started a few weeks ago and should be finished in six to eight months,” said Billings firm EEC’s President Quentin Eggart. His company is managing the renovations at the former James F. Battin Federal Courthouse.

Billings, Montana, has numerous industrial and manufacturing sites where asbestos exposure occurred over the years. The city was founded as a railroad town in 1877, earning the nickname “Magic City” due to the community’s rapid growth in its early years.

With the railroad, new settlers flooded and the city experienced a homestead unlike any other. By 1915, oil had been discovered, and the first commercial well was drilled, reaching 1,900 feet deep without encountering water along the way.

The oil attracted Conoco Oil Refinery, Exxon Corporation, and Humble Oil & Refining Company among others. Many of these companies continue operations today. Other major businesses currently in existence there include Stillwater Mining Company, Westerns Plains Machinery, Exxon/Mobile, ConocoPhillips, GM, and General Electric.

Many workers have been exposed to asbestos at various jobsites in and around Billings, putting them at risk of developing mesothelioma cancer. This includes commercial and industrial exposure at locations such as oil refineries, railroad cars, power plants, steel mills, and chemical plants, to name a few.

Those jobsites all have “high heat” environments where the use of fire and heat-resistant materials was required, be they in the construction of the plants or machinery or in the protective clothing that workers were required to wear in designated areas. Examples include fire-proof gloves and aprons.

Today, the use of asbestos has not been banned in the U.S., and many existing industrial and commercial structures still contain certain amounts of the carcinogen. It’s important to take the appropriate safety precautions to prevent harmful exposure and to mitigate the risk of developing mesothelioma.

This asbestos-related cancer can occur when asbestos is inhaled and the microscopic fibers become lodged within the outer lung tissue layer known as the mesothelium. This thin layer of cells protects and lubricates the chest cavity.

Asbestos causes a sustained inflammation of these cells, resulting in harmful scar tissue forming on the surface. This scar tissue lays the foundation for cancerous cells to develop.

According to the former Billings courthouse building owner Joe Holden, he’s excited to start bringing the structure “back to life.” The five-story building is finally getting a fresh start. It has sat vacant for many years, but now there’s a contest to rename the building in addition to the asbestos removal project.