Chilmark Board of Health takes aim at asbestos threat

1
A wall clock and calendar hung on Transite-type wall boards in the Chilmark Fire Station that are thought to contain asbestos. — Rich Saltzberg

Spurred by “recent local newspaper articles” about the potential danger of asbestos in the fire station (immediately adjacent to its office in Chilmark Town Hall), the board of health wrote the selectmen to recommend they take action.

In a letter dated Feb. 9 and copied to Chilmark’s fire chief, board of health chair Katherine Carroll told the selectmen “based on concerns reported in the newspaper articles,” the board voted on Feb. 7 to recommend the hiring of an asbestos inspector. The inspector, she wrote, is recommended to generate a written report regarding the presence and state of asbestos-bearing material in the fire station. The recommendation references Massachusetts law. Carroll also informed the selectmen that her board voted to recommend the selectmen “determine next steps and any course of action based on findings and recommendations contained in the written report.”

Carroll’s letter further informed the selectmen “there are several layers of federal and state regulations that govern indoor air quality, workplace safety and the proper response to and handling of [asbestos containing materials].”

The letter states that the board of health is available to assist the selectmen in selecting an asbestos inspector.

Reached by telephone on Tuesday, Carroll said in response to being asked whether the board was previously aware the fire station may contain asbestos, “Nobody approached us about anything.”

Carroll said the onus is on the selectmen to act. “It’s in the selectmen’s court because they are technically the land owners.”

In a subsequent telephone interview, board member Matt Poole, who is also Edgartown’s health agent, said that after peeking in the station, the interior paneling appears to be Transite, a type of cement board made with asbestos. Broken Transite boards are purported to generate asbestos dust. Asbestos dust is a well-known carcinogen. Fire Chief David Norton and firefighter/department assistant Martina Mastromonaco both told the The Times dust is an issue in the station.

“It looks like it’s probably Transite… wallboard that contains asbestos,” he said. He added that from what he saw, it appears to be in decent shape. Poole noted other buildings in Chilmark harbor Transite, albeit as exterior siding, not interior boards. “There’s been conversation in town for years” about asbestos “allegedly” being in the space, Poole said.

In response to Carroll’s letter, the board of health received an email dated Feb. 9 from the selectmen’s office, Poole said, stating that it hired FLI Environmental to survey the fire station for asbestos. Chilmark executive secretary Tim Carroll, who is Katherine Carroll’s brother-in-law, confirmed Chilmark has retained the Dedham environmental company to examine the station and write a report. At their last meeting, the selectmen authorized Tim Carroll and chairman Bill Rossi to pick one of two contenders for the job.

“Of two proposals, we took the less expensive one,” Carroll said.