Hazardous Substances Spilled During Asbestos Search at Former Paper Mill

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

Hazardous materials were leaked at the former St. Regis paper mill site in Deferiet, NY, a small town near the U.S. Army’s Fort Drum just outside of Watertown. The accident happened during a search for asbestos-containing material on the site, which had been discovered a year ago by Brookfield Renewable Power. The company alerted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the on-site asbestos.

The paper mill had been abandoned since the mid-1980s and said by the EPA to be in a “severe state of disrepair.” When Deferiet Development bought the site in 2006, damaged asbestos was left exposed after stainless steel, brass, and other metals were recovered by dismantling steam pipes.

Throughout history, asbestos lagging was applied to the surface of many conduits, such as steam pipes, to prevent heat from escaping to the outside and causing a fire danger.

Today, as many as three-quarter of a million homes and buildings across the U.S. may contain asbestos lagging. If the material is disturbed, the asbestos fibers can be released into the air.

“There was no risk to the public from the materials found in a garage at the secured site at 400 Anderson Ave. or those working at a nearby hydroelectric power plant,” said EPA On-Scene Coordinator Joel M. Petty.

Asbestosis and mesothelioma – an asbestos-related cancer that forms in the linings of the lungs, abdomen, or heart – have afflicted many power plant workers throughout the U.S. To compound matters, the family members of these workers were often victims of secondhand exposure because workers would bring asbestos fibers home on their clothes, shoes, and hair.

It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the correlation between inhaling asbestos dust and developing one of these diseases became well known to the public.

The hazardous substances leaked from containers ranging from 30 gallons to 4,500 gallons. According to the EPA, “several of these containers have holes, are bulging, and leaking contents onto the ground.”

The St. Regis Paper Company is known as an asbestos job site in Watertown, NY. The city’s rich legacy of industrial and construction activity put workers at risk for asbestos exposure.

The spill area is being secured to prevent illegal entry, and the EPA will spend the next few weeks planning costs and proper disposal of the dangerous substances.

“We have to take many precautions for protecting of our workers and protecting the community,” said Petty.