City officials say Quarry not a public health hazard

Asbestos safety training workshop for quarry workers to be held today

Posted: Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Some Juneau road construction workers occasionally could be exposed to airborne asbestos that exceeds workplace safety standards, according to environmental consultants hired by Secon, a major contractor in Juneau.

Asbestos was discovered at the city-run Stabler's Point Rock Quarry in July and subsequent tests have confirmed the first finding, a Secon official and a Juneau city engineer said Monday.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration and the city will host an asbestos safety training workshop for quarry workers at the Douglas Library at 8 a.m. today.

So far, no asbestos has been detected in the quarry's rock products and city officials don't believe the quarry poses a public health hazard.

"We need neither to blow it off or freak out," said Rorie Watt, the city's chief engineer for capital improvement projects.

He said testing so far does not show asbestos in the air at the quarry.

So far, one rock test and one air test out of more than 20 samples collected from the quarry and other rock operations and road construction sites around Juneau have showed potentially significant levels of asbestos.

One rock sample from the quarry contained about 6 percent asbestos, well above the 1 percent federal standard that defines hazardous, asbestos-containing material, according to test results provided to the Empire on Monday.

That sample was collected at the base of a rock face where Secon was working recently, according to Bellevue, Wash.-based consultants with SCS Engineers, an international consulting firm.

It contained actinolite, a form of asbestos linked to potentially fatal lung diseases.

A single air sample at a state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities road construction site showed a level of asbestos that was just below the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration's standard.

"Given the presence of actinolite in some of Secon's Stabler's Pit (rock) and the limited DOT air monitoring data, it appears Secon's workers would occasionally be exposed to airborne asbestos levels in excess of workplace exposure standards," said Daniel Venchiarutti and Gregory Helland, with SCS Engineers in an Aug. 17 letter to Secon.

Secon, one of Juneau's major road builders, remains leery about returning to the quarry. It was one of a few companies that stopped using rock from Stabler's Point in late July when Wayne Coogan, a critic of the city's quarry operation, unveiled test results for Stabler's Point rock that showed high levels of tremolite, a form of asbestos that is also linked to potentially fatal lung diseases.

The company plans to do more tests at its rock crushing plant before it returns to the quarry and also plans to outfit its workers with respirators.

"When we get those results, we'll decide what to do," said Larry Bingham, Secon's Juneau operations manager.

So far, asbestos has not been detected at the Lena Point or Hidden Valley rock quarries.

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