Today's NewsGreensboro, NC city employees and contractors may have been exposed to asbestos while working toward the demolition of War Memorial Auditorium, according to a recent report in the region’s newspaper, The News & Record.

The exposure, which may have begun as early as August and was reported online by YES Weekly, is the focus of an OSHA investigation, according to the report.

“One of our staff members went through in August and identified that there may be some asbestos,” city spokesman Donnie Turlington said in an interview with The News & Record.

The building, constructed in 1959, was closed in September and readied for demolition, according to the report.

The asbestos was disturbed

“At the same time, right after the building closed, they also went through the auction process — getting seats and furniture out of there,” Turlington said in the interview. “A scrap company agreed to take out a lot of things. In the process of the scrappers going in to pull out the stuff, they disturbed some of the asbestos.”

Turlington told The News & Record a “miscommunication” allowed the scrappers to continue their work despite the knowledge of asbestos, which can cause cancer and lung disease if workers are exposed to it.

The OSHA investigation was instigated by an employee complaint on Oct. 10, 2014, according to the news report.

It is not clear how many contract workers or city employees may have been exposed, Turlington said. The best estimate is fewer than six, he said in the interview.

How exposure happened

A memo from Matthew Schweitzer, the city’s safety administrator, outlined what the city believes happened, as reported by The News & Record.

“During the latter stages of the salvage process, copper piping that was insulated with air cell insulation was disturbed,” Schweitzer wrote. “Air cell insulation has a cardboard-like appearance. The air cell insulation in the auditorium contained 10% asbestos. It is important to note that copper piping was not on the items listed for auction.”

A few city employees may have briefly entered the auditorium to check on the boiler or plug in tools while working outside the building, Schweitzer wrote.

“It is not possible to determine if employees that entered the building were exposed to asbestos levels above the 8-hour, time-weighted OSHA permissible exposure limit of 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter,” Schweitzer wrote. “However, air monitoring was conducted in several areas of the building after the asbestos-containing material had been disturbed and the levels were below the permissible exposure limits.”

"Fairly common"

The city does not want to minimize what happened, Turlington said in the interview, but encountering asbestos when working on or demolishing buildings from the 1960s and earlier is fairly common, he said.

The News & Record, Greensboro NC