MIAMI, Okla. — Miami residents turned out Thursday night to hear how a federal agency plans to go about removing a significant amount of asbestos from their town and what steps are being taken to keep them safe from exposure to the known human carcinogen.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to spend an estimated $2.8 million from the Superfund program to remove 23,000 of tons of demolition debris tainted with asbestos from the former B.F. Goodrich tire plant in Miami.

Officials with the EPA and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality announced in a community meeting Thursday night that work on the first phase of the project, now underway, should be completed by the fall.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was frequently used in various building construction materials because of its strength, but it has been proved to cause multiple health problems. The tire factory employed nearly 2,000 people from the Tri-State Area during much of its operation from 1945 to 1986. The plant operated 24 hours a day, seven days per week, and produced up to 3 million tires over four decades.

The first phase of the cleanup effort will consist of removing 20 asbestos-containing debris piles dotted throughout the property, as well as the demolition of the oven building and the powerhouse building. The goal is to have this phase completed by late September.

Mike McAteer, EPA federal on-scene coordinator, said each of the debris piles primarily hold building materials, with 40% of those materials containing asbestos.

“It (asbestos) was in decent shape when it was on the roof,” said McAteer. “Now that it’s been brought down, run over, crushed and been sitting out in the environment, it’s falling apart, so it’s possible to release asbestos fibers into the community. Obviously, this is a concern.”

Throughout the cleanup, EPA contractors will be wearing hazmat suits with air respirators and will be spraying down the debris piles with water as it’s moved onto trucks lined in plastic. The plastic sheeting will be folded over the debris for transport. The truck will also be hosed down before leaving the premises to help reduce the spread of asbestos. The asbestos will then be disposed in an approved landfill in Missouri, McAteer said.

Four air monitoring stations will be located throughout the perimeter of the plant to test for airborne asbestos, said McAteer. Unfortunately, the machines only run for a few hours a day and test results can take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to get back. If wind speeds exceed 30 mph, cleanup will be shut down and resume when speeds have decreased, according to McAteer.

A major concern is the fact that residences and three school buildings are located within less than a mile radius of the plant. Many nearby residents expressed apprehension during the meeting for the health of the children and how cleanup could potentially lead to exposure to asbestos, if it becomes crumbly — or friable — and goes airborne.

Nicholas Crisp, a therapist for the Miami Public School District, said it’s a serious issue because there are hundreds of children that attend the nearby schools and play outside during recess where they can potentially be exposed if asbestos becomes airborne. He said there should be safeguards in place for the children in case a problem occurs during cleanup.

“We won’t have immediate notice (of air quality), and the EPA is saying that they’re going to be more reactive than proactive, as far as if it does happen, and then from there, they’ll establish a protocol,” said Crisp. “I find this highly unsatisfactory.”

Other concerns

Several of the remaining buildings on the site have asbestos-containing material in them. Trespassers have also been breaking into the standing structures on the property where some have ripped out piping wrapped in asbestos.

“It’s not anything you want to come in contact with,” said McAteer. “We don’t want anyone to be exposed to asbestos from this facility because there’s quite a bit of it out there.”

Others have been breaking into the boarded up buildings and cutting holes in the fences. Security has been increased at the site to combat that issue.

Health issues

Breathing in asbestos can cause lung scarring, mesothelioma, lung cancer and laryngeal cancer. Resident Charity Rogers brought her 3-year-old daughter, Avery, to the meeting and mentioned how they’ve both been experiencing severe health problems after she moved to the area a decade ago.

Rogers purchased a house within a few blocks from the plant and began becoming sick, which she believes is due to the defunct tire plant. She also said her neighbors also have been experiencing similar medical issues.

“My neighbors are having the exact same symptoms as I have,” she said. “We’ve all been told by dozens of specialists that we’ve been diagnosed with tons of autoimmune diseases. I got really sick about five years after I bought the home. I had a mass removed from my head and two other masses in my body. About every three years, I spend about six months in the hospital.”

Rogers said she is frightened that the asbestos could be stirred up during the cleanup and wonders why it has not become an issue before now.

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.