Thatcher Mills Burns to the Ground Causing Asbestos Concerns

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

The decades old Standard Coosa Thatcher Mills building burned to the ground last Tuesday causing concern because it contained asbestos. Fire officials were the ones to share the asbestos news with the public.

The owner, City Property Company’s President Tim Boyle, said he was aware the building contained asbestos.

“We’ve done studies and that’s common for industrial buildings to have environmental issues,” stated Boyle.

The fire has raised concerns among the surrounding community as well as asbestos experts.

“Asbestos particles can stay in the air literally for hours, but even if they settle out, if there’s a wind or a clean-up activity as they get put back up in the air, they can drift and contaminate a neighborhood,” said asbestos expert Dr. Arthur Frank.

“It can get into the water, and if that water is used as somebody’s drinking supply, it could get into people’s drinking water,” added Dr. Frank.

“Even though air pollution investigators responded to the fire scene, the air quality outside the plant is not being monitored,” said a Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau spokesperson.

“We look for buildings that are in depressed areas that could benefit [and] that the area and the buildings could benefit from redevelopment,” said Boyle.

The former plant was vacant for several years until City Property planned to renovate the mill into 160 loft-style affordable housing apartments. The buildings that burned down in the fire were fortunately not the ones to be remodeled.

In fact, asbestos was long considered a miracle material for its excellent fire- and heat-resistant properties. This naturally occurring mineral actually dates back to ancient Greece. It was used as a building material as far back as the Roman Empire. Eventually it was used as a fabric component in clothing and other textiles.

Handling asbestos must be done with great care due to the toxic properties and its classification as a known carcinogen. When in good condition, there’s usually no hazard. But when it becomes worn or damaged, it’s a great risk to the health and safety of humans.

For example, a fire could release the asbestos fibers into the air and anyone in the area could inhale them. Years later, this asbestos exposure could lead to mesothelioma cancer and other diseases.

Boyle recently discovered the mill would be receiving a $200,000 loan for hazardous supplemental funding. He plans to use the funds to clean up the fire and still continue construction in January 2017.

The mill fire has remained under investigation for now.