Cleanup crews have begun asbestos abatement work at the abandoned Pillsbury Mills Plant. The work is expected to last six months and cost $1.8 million. About 750,000 square feet of space will need to be cleaned up. That’s around the size of four retail supercenters.
The 18-acre site is located at 1525 E. Phillips St. It’s been vacant since former owner, Cargill Corporation, closed the plant in 2001.
“This is the largest clean up I’ve ever been involved in,” said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on-site coordinator Kevin Turner. The EPA became involved because owners were not conducting proper clean up, thus exposing everyone in the surrounding area to health and safety hazards.
Springfield has a lengthy history of manufacturing and commercial construction, which has made asbestos exposure, and the risk of mesothelioma cancer, an ongoing concern. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma cancer.
Under the plant’s most recent owner, asbestos debris was stuffed into approximately 300 garbage bags and at least two open-topped cardboard boxes, and left inside buildings at the facility.
In fact, the resulting asbestos lawsuit stopped the plant’s demolition at the request of the EPA who asked for an asbestos cleanup in accordance to regulations.
Almost 11,000 people are located under a mile from the processing plant. The closest home is within 100 feet from the entrance. To keep asbestos exposure to a minimum, air quality monitors line the perimeter. Water is continuously sprayed on the piles of debris to prevent the asbestos fibers from becoming airborne.
“I’d see kids go in there all the time and walk around,” said neighbor Ann Ridgeway. “They’ve needed to do this for a long time. I’ve seen them over there working. It’s great news.”
“We’ll hit every single floor,” said Turner. Crews are working outside for now, but will eventually move inside to locate and carefully remove the dangerous chemical floor by floor.
After the plant’s cleanup is complete, the site will go back to the owners.
Due to fire-safety violation calls “we’re very familiar with this site,” said Fire Marshall Chris Richmond. “At least we’ll no longer have the asbestos.”