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A federal inspector said he is confident cleanup on an asbestos-contaminated debris pile at Front and Seward streets downtown will begin Oct. 20.
Representatives of property owner Tom Huntington "have assured me," said John Pavitt, an air compliance inspector for the Environmental Protection Agency, from Seattle on Wednesday. He noted that plans to clean up the site of an Aug. 15 fire had been postponed a couple of times.
"We had a frank discussion," Pavitt said. "I've been hearing from shopkeepers. (The debris pile) is affecting their business."
The debris pile makes up most of the remains of a 108-year-old commercial building demolished two weeks after the fire, started by people working on the roof with a torch and tar paper.
Pavitt said work to remove it could take up to a month, according to the plan submitted on behalf of the owner. How long it actually takes will depend on how many specially trained people are hired.
The debris would leave Juneau by barge and go to an Oregon dump approved to accept asbestos, he said.
Michael Patterson, disaster plan manager for Juneau, said he is hoping to brief area merchants and the media Oct. 18.
He anticipates having to shut down Shattuck Way to traffic and parking while the work is done, he said. He doesn't know yet if lower Seward Street will have to be closed.
Initial debris removal stopped when an EPA officer asked to perform tests for asbestos. Subsequent tests showed that some asbestos known to be sealed in floor tiles had been released as fibers when tiles were broken and crushed, the EPA reported. Additional asbestos was detected in a patching material that had been used on the roof.
Asbestos, once commonly used for fireproofing and insulation, has been shown to cause cancer and the respiratory disease asbestosis.
Pavitt said Wednesday that he couldn't quantify the health risk, but called it "significant."
Patterson said he doesn't believe the debris makes up "a glowing pile of death" that some in the community have come to believe based on reports of asbestos detection.
"Yes, there's stuff in there," he said. "Yes, they're going by the book (to remove it)."
He said the detection of asbestos creates special requirements for removal and disposal. People trained in a 40-hour hazardous materials course will have to clear the debris into sealed containers.
Pavitt said workers will have to spray mist on the debris while removing it.