Beaufort News

Asbestos not a health threat at Lobeco plant, officials say

Asbestos remains at the site of a former Lobeco industrial plant, but it poses no public-health or environmental threat, according to a state health and environmental agency.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control findings from earlier this month came after environmental concerns prompted Beaufort County officials to halt demolition of the former chemical plant in January.

DHEC sent a community update to residents last week addressing developments at the site since it sampled 36 private drinking water wells in 2009.

The samples were taken after property's previous owners -- who are responsible for groundwater cleanup -- indicated groundwater contamination had moved partially off-site. Results showed that no contaminants from the site were present in any of the wells, according to the update.

Some residents had also expressed concern that recent demolition activities disturbed asbestos, DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said.

"That's not the case," Myrick said. "We wanted to get this word out to the community."Coastal Demolition and Construction of Tampa, Fla., was issued a stop-work order Jan. 18 after Beaufort County officials discovered the company, which purchased the site in 2009, was tearing down the ArrMaz Custom Chemical plant building on John Meeks Way without the necessary permits, county administrator Gary Kubic said at the time.

In June 2009, DHEC staff found that Coastal Demolition and Construction had demolished and salvaged pieces of the site without a proper license, according to the community update.

DHEC then found in November 2009 that floor tile and adhesive containing asbestos had been improperly removed from a structure and stored on site, according to the community update.In December of that year, DHEC authorized the broken floor tile and adhesive to be removed to a permitted landfill in December 2009.

Several other structures were demolished on the site between March and June 2010.

In February, DHEC visited the property and found the only asbestos still remaining on-site was in pipe insulation from a former maintenance shop and boiler house.

The structure is still intact.

Coastal Demolition has applied for demolition permits for the remainder of the tank farm and reactor building.

Those permits have not been issued, Myrick said.

"We are awaiting the additional asbestos sampling in the tank farm area," Myrick said in an e-mail. "Also, if Coastal plans to remove the asbestos pipe insulation on the ground in the boiler house, they will need a permit and licensed abatement contractor for that too."

DHEC is investigating the unpermitted demolition and the improper removal of the floor tile, according to the update.

Two previous owners of the site -- ArrMaz Specialty Chemicals and American Color and Chemical -- share the cost of cleaning up unspecified chemicals in the soil and groundwater.

The companies are studying the feasibility of a "more comprehensive cleaning plan," DHEC Community Liaison Richelle Tolton said.

"We estimate by the end of the year we should have the (cleanup) plan to present to the community," Tolton said.

The companies also have filed a lawsuit against Coastal Demolition, alleging the company has put the environment at risk through "haphazard and reckless demolition."