Feds Not Releasing Asbestos Information on an Iowa City Hall

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

The feds continue to investigate an asbestos incident at Ottumwa City Hall without releasing information. The city says an employee accidentally damaged a pipe in the basement while working on its construction, which resulted in an asbestos discovery.

After the pipe was disturbed, the construction stopped and an independent third-party was brought in for testing and assessment. Ottumwa City did not make a press release until over a week later.

Only properly licensed companies can handle asbestos testing, removal, and consulting. If not conducted properly, asbestos exposure can result due to the toxic properties of the substance and its classification as a known carcinogen.

Individuals who do not follow Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules are subject to fines and even imprisonment depending on the extent of mishandling.

According to the test results, asbestos was present in the pipe’s insulation, yet “no detectable airborne asbestos fibers” were released. Asbestos is commonly found in building materials used over the past century, more specifically in insulation and pipe lagging.

As a solid, asbestos poses little threat. But over time it can become brittle and crumble. This is when the fibers are released into the air. The EPA refers to this state as “friable” because it can be crushed merely by using your hand.

At that point, it’s possible for anyone in the vicinity to inhale the toxic fibers, which can become embedded in the chest and potentially lead to mesothelioma cancer. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer affecting the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen.

“We were notified of the situation and an inspection was initiated,” said Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Administrator, Jens Nissen. “When it’s an open file, we can’t really give more consent.”

Apparently more details cannot be released about the actual incident in the basement, but the city may get fined for the incident. Upon completion of the investigation, the feds can make the citations public, if any are given. These are “explicitly spelled out in the code.”

Plus, any citations are required to be issued within six months, but the OSHA Chief has not announced a planned schedule.