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After three days of closure, the Staunton Court in Virginia has reopened to the public. It serves as the city circuit court services located at 113 E. Beverley St. But the third floor is still closed due to positive asbestos tests from several of its ceiling tiles.
“We did a very thorough interview over the weekend and they’ve tested the air and surfaces and found no signs of asbestos, so the building has been cleared and it’s safe and ready,” said city spokeswoman Ruth Jones. The asbestos is believed to have remained contained to the third floor.
Although the U.S. government issued warnings in the 1970s about exposure to this toxic mineral, it’s not uncommon for asbestos to be contained in many older public buildings, including courthouses.
Asbestos insulation, asbestos floor ceiling and tiling, and many other building products made use of the mineral due to its strong heat and fire resistant properties and ability to withstand much corrosion.
When released into the air, asbestos fibers can be inhaled and lead to a variety of complications, including the fatal mesothelioma cancer. Malignant mesothelioma occurs in the thin layer of cells lining the body’s internal organs, known as mesothelium.
Twelve criminal cases were postponed as a result of the shut down. However, the third floor asbestos removal project is estimated to last about three weeks, occurring in the early morning and at night while the courthouse is closed. Jones believes the removal costs won’t be any greater than $220,000.
The third floor staff will continue to work on the second floor for the next six weeks in the building’s smaller circuit court room to accommodate the abatement process.
The series of events were kick started toward the end of July, when numerous ceiling tiles collapsed on the third floor. A sample was taken from the debris and it tested positive for asbestos. At that time, the clerk and staff were moved to the second floor so the asbestos could be removed and the rest of the building stayed open.
More recently, additional tiles were accidentally removed by a contractor who wasn’t part of the abatement process. This caused the courthouse to close while the lower floors were tested as well.
“In an abundance of caution, the building was closed for preventative cleaning and to ensure containment of the asbestos,” said Jones. “The well-being of our employees and the public and patrons of the court’s services is a top priority, so we took the appropriate measures to ensure their safety by vacating the building.”
The Cochran Judicial Center had asbestos work done in the early 1990s when it was renovated, but for some reason a part of the third floor was not included.