The Environmental Protection Agency could determine today whether asbestos in the demolition rubble at Front and Seward streets will require special handling, a spokesman for the federal agency said.
Mark MacIntyre, from Seattle, said the EPA hasn't ordered a stop to work removing the debris that used to comprise a 108-year-old building.
The building burned Aug. 15 in a fire started by workers doing repairs on the roof with a torch. The commercial center had 18 tenants.
Wednesday afternoon the debris remained unattended behind a chain-link fence. The suspension of work would be due to the owner and demolition contractor cooperating with the EPA investigation, he said.
MacIntyre said the agency doesn't know if there is asbestos in a form that would cause a health hazard requiring parts of to be disposed of in a special way.
"A lot of times, buildings become suspect because of their age," he said. "Asbestos was used for so many decades as a fire retardant."
Work on the building was shut down last week by Alaska Occupational Safety and Health officers, who prevented employees from entering it until tests determined that there was no danger from asbestos. Asbestos was found in floor tiles, but in a sealed, encapsulated form.
Asbestos fibers have been linked to lung cancer and asbestosis, a respiratory disease. MacIntyre said the substance is considered a problem when fibers break away and become airborne.
State restrictions on the work were lifted Friday and the building was demolished over the weekend.
MacIntyre said the timeline for work at the site hasn't been fully established, but he said an EPA inspector was in Juneau this week.
John Pavitt, an air compliance inspector for the EPA, said Tuesday night that earlier in the day an inspector from the agency had "frank discussions" with people involved with the work.
MacIntyre said he did not know when the EPA inspector began work on the site. The EPA is interested in more than the results of the tests, he added. The agency needs to know when inspections and work were done and how the samples being tested were handled, as well as who handled them, to make sure they are reliable.
"We work hard to make sure the data we have is as bulletproof as possible," he said.