Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Tale of an "Asbestos-Plagued" Home (not ours!)

One thing that really raises my preservationist hackles is when uninformed people make up reasons to tear down or otherwise ruin the character of an old building without consulting an expert.  By the time they've spouted off their opinion, all of the other uninformed people have formed a sympathetic opinion and it is too late for preservationists and experts to enter with the voice of reason.

 My latest hackle-raising had to do with an article in my hometown newspaper that described a house "plagued by asbestos."  Clearly that hits a hot button with most people.  Danger!  That stuff will kill you!  The article continues on about the "environmental problems" of this building and how "something has to be done" and that "the building is a hazard."  

Now, I don't really know anything about this building other than the photograph in the paper and the description in the article, but from what I do see and read, these guys are way off base!  Turns out the asbestos problems is that it has asbestos siding.  Now as far as asbestos problems go, this is one of the easiest to remedy.  Either leave the siding as is or take the dang siding off! 

Asbsestos siding was used from the 1920s through the 1970s and was made by adding asbestos into Portland cement and pressing it into a shingle shape and profile.  Essentially, it was the precursor of today's fiber cement board siding.  Because asbestos siding is durable and encapsulated in the cement, there is very little chance of the asbestos fiber coming free and floating through the air.  The danger comes from breathing the asbestos fibers.  According to the asbestos siding facts website, the siding can be safely removed by taking the precaution of wetting the siding so that no fibers will become airborne, wearing a respirator  and disposable clothing in case any fibers do become free, and disposing of the siding in double bagged and sealed trash bags.  The even more radical plan is to leave the siding be - unless it's damaged, it is not causing any harm, even if you touch it, and it will probably last longer than some of today's alternatives.

It sounds to me like the town really wants this property to augment the nearby playground and has found a way to use EPA funding to clean up an "environmental problem" rather than allowing someone to rehabilitate the property back into a single family home.  Of course tearing down this early 20th century house will change the character of the "center of town" where it is said to be located and, ironically, could cause the asbestos siding to become a n airborne hazard depending on how they choose to demolish the building.  Unfortunately, it's likely an uphill battle for preservationists and the voice of reason at this point.   

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