MIAMI, Okla. — The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that the removal of the 19 asbestos-tainted debris piles at the former B.F. Goodrich tire plant in Miami has been moving “ahead of schedule.”

“We’re done with 12 of the 19 piles, so we’re just a little bit ahead of schedule,” Mike McAteer, the federal on-scene coordinator for the project, told the Globe this week. “I’m expecting at the rate we’re going, we should have the piles done by the middle or the third week of August.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and it’s rarely that we ever get to say, ‘It’s going better than I thought it was going to,’” he added.

The estimated $2.8 million project, funded through the Superfund program, officially kicked off June 6 after a public meeting with community members describing the plan of action. The first phase includes the removal of 19 piles of demolition debris that contains asbestos. The phase also includes demolition of the oven building and the powerhouse building. Officials had originally said there were 20 piles of asbestos-tainted debris, but one contained only metal material.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was frequently used in various construction materials because of its strength, but it has been proved to cause health problems, including lung cancer. A majority of the piles on the western half of the site have been removed and now contractors are tackling the eastern half, according to McAteer. The ideal goal, he said, would be to have all of the asbestos-containing debris removed before students return back to the three nearby schools on Aug. 21. The agency had tentatively predicted to have this phase completed by late September.

Several factors have played in the EPA’s favor to help speed up the cleanup, including rainy weather and the amount of asbestos debris at the site. The piles containing asbestos are wet down during the cleanup steps to reduce the risk of it becoming friable or airborne, and the rain has helped crews use less water.

Before beginning the project, EPA officials initially predicted that the site contained about 23,000 tons of asbestos-tainted debris, but they believe it may be less than that after working through the piles.

McAteer said they’re now estimating there’s 18,000 to 20,000 tons of asbestos-containing material on the grounds, which has also helped accelerate the project.

“One thing is the tonnage per pile has been a little bit lower, so the weight has been lower than we had initially predicted, which is good, so we’re able to get rid of more materials,” McAteer said. “Our (initial) tonnage may have been a little bit higher than what it’s actually turned out to be. And we haven’t had too many weather setbacks.”

Cleanup crews outfitted in hazmat suits and respirator masks have been working 10 hours per day, six days a week, resulting in the removal about two dozen truckloads of debris daily, according to McAteer. The trucks are lined in plastic to contain the asbestos-tainted material and hosed off before exiting the property.

“A lot of times on these projects where you’re hauling material to a landfill, trucks are always the challenge,” McAteer said. “You set up with trucking companies, and on certain days, they don’t provide enough trucks. On this job, we have two trucking companies that have kept up every day with the trucks that they’ve promised, which is really good. We don’t always get that. It’s kept us moving without any problems.”

The powerhouse building and oven building were demolished last week and the removal of that asbestos-containing debris has also been going smoothly, McAteer said.

“We thought it would take the bulk of the week to get the oven building down because all of that metal in there,” he said. “Well, it didn’t. We had that building down in less than two and a half days, and the brick office building came down in hours.”

Another major concern voiced by residents during the public meeting was that if the debris piles are disrupted, asbestos could become airborne. The agency set up four air monitoring stations around the property, as well as an additional one on the north side, to test the air during the cleanup. McAteer said the results have all come back asbestos-free thus far.

“It’s all about keeping enough water on it, so we are constantly doing that,” he said. “I think that’s helping.”

Phase two

The EPA is already beginning to explore the plan's second phase, which includes removal of the asbestos-containing material in seven pits on the property.

McAteer said they’re currently gathering estimates to see how much the second phase will cost. However, it mainly depends on how much funding is leftover from the first phase and if the agency can get Michelin North America, the owner of B.F. Goodrich, to take responsibility for the remainder of the cleanup.

“The enforcement side (of the cleanup) takes a little bit longer,” McAteer said. “Right now, it’s too early to tell.”

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.

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