Demolition at the Wilton mill on hold until asbestos is removed

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Demolition of the former Forster Manufacturing Company mill has stopped until asbestos abatement can take place.

WILTON – Citations are expected after tests confirmed unhealthy levels of airborne asbestos at the Forster mill demolition this week, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The construction company doing the demolition and salvage work at the mill since April has stopped all work until the hazardous material can be removed, said William Coffin, OSHA’s director in Maine.

Following a complaint received a few weeks ago, OSHA arrived unannounced and took air samples at various areas throughout the four-level, 235,000 square foot complex of mill buildings. Samples were then sent to OSHA’s Salt Lake City lab with the results coming back this week.

“Everything was asbestos,” Coffin said of the findings. An OSHA inspector returned to the mill and told the Downeast Construction Co. foreman of the results. The foreman was advised to remove people from the site, which he has done, until an abatement company can come in. About ten employees have been working to raze the mill.

The hazardous asbestos material is mostly in the form of pipe insulation, Coffin said, commonly found at industrial sites. Normally the asbestos material can be encapsulated to prevent microscopic fibers from escaping into the air and easily and unknowingly inhaled. But, in the case of demolition, all asbestos-containing materials need to be removed before work can continue. Asbestos exposure can lead to several types of cancers, especially lung cancer.

Besides the construction workers at the site being exposed to asbestos, a police officer and firefighters responding to a fire on Monday at the site were exposed. The fire, reported by a neighbor, had started by sparks as welders were cutting pipes. A standard chest x-ray can be used to detect the presence of asbestos fibers in the lungs.

“It’s a huge, multi-story building,” Coffin said, and, the next step is to have an abatement company survey the building to find out how much asbestos is in the building. The building’s owner, Adam Mack of Portland, assured selectmen and the Wilton Planning Board in April that as industrial sites go, the 12-acre mill property on Depot Street is relatively clean because no chemicals were used in the manufacture of wool or wood products. Mack said that the only asbestos listed in a Phase I Brownfield environmental study of the mill site conducted in 2004 was found in the floor tiles.

The planners gave conditional permit approval, asking among other things, for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection’s assurance the project has the agency’s approval to proceed and its recommendations are followed. Selectmen said they received such assurance at their April 19 meeting and approved the permit, allowing for the demotion to begin.

Coffin said air sample results taken where wood material from the mill was stored across the street haven’t come back yet. Any concerns for the air quality in the mill’s surrounding neighborhoods is something the DEP would be involved with looking into, Coffin said. OSHA oversees employee safety and health issues only.

A phone message left with John Bucci of the state’s DEP, who has been involved with the mill demolition project’s permitting has not been returned yet.

Coffin added that he expects OSHA will be issuing citations in this case. If found in serious violation, stiff penalties may result, he said.

A pile of wood scraps taken from the mill and stored across the street have been tested but the results aren't back yet.
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