Asbestos testing begins in northeast Minneapolis

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The Environmental Protection Agency will begin indoor tests for Libby asbestos in 30 to 50 homes in northeast Minneapolis on Wednesday.

The selected homes are a sample of more than 260 Minneapolis residences where outdoor areas were cleaned of Libby asbestos. The contamination resulted from the W.R. Grace & Co. plant at 1720 Madison St., which left the asbestos — originating from Libby, Mont. — out for the public to take home, and for people to come into contact with.

The testing was recommended as a follow-up to a Minnesota Department of Health study that concluded in 2003.

The testing — which could take up to two weeks — will involve taking air and dust samples from the selected homes.

Tannie Eshenaur, a Minnesota Department of Health spokeswoman, said residents won’t receive the results of the testing for about four months. The EPA’s emergency response group, which specializes in removal of substances, will take the lead. Eshenaur’s environmental health unit will provide public health and scientific expertise, she said.

In addition to the EPA’s inspections, the University will be doing research in the area.

Three years ago, the University received a grant from the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry , which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . The grant will allow the University to examine lung health among people in the Logan Park community who were exposed to lower levels of Libby asbestos.

Bruce Alexander , professor of environmental health sciences, is one of the people working on the study. Alexander said the situation is unique because the plant was located in the middle of a residential area, which allows researchers to study the effects of exposure within the community.

Alexander said he hopes to finish the study in about a year. At that point the results will be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed medical literature and also sent to community members who can present the information to the Logan Park community.

Alexander said once someone has been exposed, there is nothing that can be done to clear the fibers out of the lungs.

Libby asbestos — like other kinds of asbestos — is notorious for causing Mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer.

Raymond Zawako , 49, a Logan Park resident, said he and his friends used to jump in the piles of asbestos that were left outside the plant.

“It was like a bean bag chair; you’d jump in the pile and it was steamy and hot,” Zawako said. “We would take turns and just keep jumping in. It’s what we used to do for fun.”

Zawako said he’s not worried about his exposure because he was exposed to lead paint for 20 years and there isn’t a cure for either toxin.

The W.R. Grace & Co. plant opened in the late 1930s and closed in 1989. The EPA typically makes the polluter pay to clean up its own mess, but in this case W.R. Grace & Co. refused. The EPA then cleaned it up for them, but since W.R. Grace & Co. filed for bankruptcy in 2001, the EPA has yet to be reimbursed.

Tom Krueger, an EPA staff attorney, said there are similar W.R. Grace & Co. sites across the country, but he is optimistic the EPA will get back most of the money they are owed.