Construction workers in St. Louis, Missouri cut into asbestos piping on November 3rd while building an underground museum for the infamous Gateway Arch, St. Louis’s most modern and expensive landmark. When contractors discovered the asbestos piping, the work site was closed down and remained closed until a thorough battery of testing revealed that it no longer presented an exposure threat. The work site reopened on December 15th.
What’s perhaps most disconcerting is that the cut itself was not the greatest problem, but rather the workers’ realization that they’d cut the same pipe nearly a month before. McCarthy Building Companies, the contracting firm in charge of the project, didn’t realize its initial cut had exposed the site to asbestos. As a result, workers didn’t immediately seal the work site or equip themselves with respirators.
Luckily, inspectors found that the asbestos contamination had not affected publicly accessible areas. Through the whole process, the Gateway Arch has remained open to visitors.
No Safe Level: Asbestos Is a Lethal Substance at Any Dose
Asbestos exposure – even exposure to a single asbestos fiber – is known to cause the deadly cancer, mesothelioma. Mesothelioma takes roughly 3,000 lives in the U.S. every year and no cure yet exists for the disease. Unfortunately, most treatment options can only reduce a patient’s suffering. Asbestos, a mineral fiber once used extensively in the manufacturing industry for its strength and fire resistant properties, is now known to cause other severe lung conditions like asbestosis and asbestos-related lung cancer, in addition to mesothelioma.
Though the U.S. asbestos industry has been heavily regulated since the 1980s, certain manufacturers still use asbestos in their products today. In the case of the thousands of men and women who get sick and die from asbestos-triggered diseases each year, their illnesses are a result of corporate cover-up, as corporations knew the lethality of asbestos for decades, but chose not to warn their employees of the dangers of daily exposure.
As a result of the contractor’s mistake in St. Louis, the entire site became contaminated and required weeks of intensive clean up. The asbestos removal cost $350,000 and added “several weeks” to the building schedule, according to the project manager, Kathy Schneider.
Contracting Company Will Pay Workers for Medical Examinations, As It Should
At least one report thus far suggests that the exposed workers were offered free medical attention in the form of lung testing and chest x-rays, all of it compensated by the contracting company. If these reports are true, this makes for a rare and admirable act in an industry that so often looks the other way when it comes to worker protection.
The Arch Grounds Project is a $380 Million endeavor. About $162 Million of the cost was covered by taxes as well as state, city, and federal sources. Private donations make up the rest of the funds. Asbestos removal was covered by privately funded, so-called “contingency dollars.”