Chilmark fire station air tests free of asbestos

Carcinogen still lurks in the building, but isn’t considered hazardous provided it’s managed correctly.

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Broken Transite wall board inside Chilmark's fire station. Tests found the boards, which panel much of the station, contain asbestos. Tests also found the air inside the station is not polluted with asbestos. — Rich Saltzberg

Tests commissioned by the town of Chilmark and the Chilmark Firefighters Association both showed the air inside the Chilmark Fire Station isn’t polluted with asbestos.

Fears about the potential for asbestos in the station grew last month after Fire Chief David Norton revealed that vehicles in the station are often covered in dust that he thought might contain asbestos, and after Tri-Town Ambulance Chief Ben Retmier confirmed his staff disliked being inside the station on account of the dust.

Chilmark executive secretary Tim Carroll reported the results of a recent hazardous materials survey of the station to the selectmen at their meeting Tuesday night.

Four vacuum dust samples taken by FLI Environmental tested negative for asbestos, Carroll said. Asbestos was nevertheless found to be present in the building. The Transite paneling boards, putty around an electrical cable, a second-floor sink underlayer, boards on the furnace room roof, and joint compound on the second floor all harbored asbestos, Carroll reported. FLI Environmental recommended the asbestos be abated by a licensed professional, Carroll said. “In the meantime,” he said, it has been recommended “we shouldn’t drill, nail, or otherwise disturb the wallboard [sheetrock] or the joint compound [upstairs]. We shouldn’t break or damage the wallboard [Transite] that’s downstairs. And any place that there was damage to it — cracked boards — they suggested we tape them over with plastic and post some signage.”

Broken pieces of wallboard should be “bagged and sealed with duct tape,” he added.

In an email to Carroll, FLI Environmental president David McDonald wrote, “Broken or loose pieces of Transite and any associated debris should be removed and disposed of properly. Remaining material should be left in an intact condition, and any exposed or broken edges encapsulated (sealed) using a bridging encapsulant.”

McDonald also recommended designating an asbestos program manager for the station and the completion of an asbestos awareness class for all those who work in or maintain the station.

Chairman Bill Rossi asked if there was any remediation necessary immediately.

Only signage and plastic and tape, Carroll said.

“So my question is after listening to discussions in this room, and reading a number of articles and seeing a bunch of pictures, is the fire station a safe work environment?” selectman Jim Malkin asked.

“As far as asbestos is concerned?” Carroll asked.

“Yes,” Malkin replied. 

“The dust samples … all come up free and clear of asbestos,” selectman Warren Doty said before Carroll could respond.

The Chilmark Firefighters Association told its members on Monday at their regular weekly meeting that the air tested clean inside the station at the time of their independent examination on Feb. 15. However, like FLI Environmental, the association’s contractor, Terracon Consultants, found the Transite boards paneling the station contained asbestos, according to association secretary Annie Bradshaw. Tests also showed no asbestos in the adhesive of linoleum flooring on the second floor of the station — an earlier suspicion. The results are preliminary, relayed over the phone, Bradshaw said. She expects the complete report to be submitted to the association next week.

Carroll, also Chilmark’s deputy fire chief, confirmed the association’s findings: “They didn’t do as many samples as we did, so they didn’t come up with any other positive materials besides the Transite board, but they looked at a bunch of things and they tested them, and they came back negative. And they reported that it’s a safe environment to work in — their consultant said it was safe to be in the building as long as you didn’t break, drill, or cut the boards.”