Tests Show Demolition Dust Won’t Cause Health Problems

Wed September 28, 2005 - Southeast Edition

CHARLESTON, SC (AP) An air quality analysis conducted near the demolition site of the two old Cooper River bridges found small levels of a potentially hazardous substance, but the quantities weren’t substantial enough to cause immediate or long-term health problems for nearby residents, a contractor said.

Michael Underhill, president of a firm hired by the demolition contractor, said air samples collected over an eight-hour period showed that 10 to 14 percent of the dust contained quartz, a form of crystalline silica.

The remainder of the dust contained concrete debris, said Underhill, president of Trident Environmental Services, which conducted the tests.

Exposure to dust that contains silica can cause silicosis, a condition that leads to inflamed lungs, shortness of breath and low blood-oxygen levels. But Underhill said silicosis is typically only found in workers, such as those in the mining industry, who are exposed to dust for extended periods of time.

The tests were conducted inside a nearby home and on the front porches of other properties near the demolition site.

An inspection of the Grace and Pearman bridges was conducted in July in an attempt to identify and remove all asbestos from the structure, said Leland Colvin, project director with the state Transportation Department.

Several expansion joints on the Grace bridge were found to contain asbestos, so crews removed each joint as one complete piece in order to keep the asbestos from becoming airborne, Colvin said.

“The dust out there doesn’t contain asbestos,” he said.

The contractor and the state moved to test and contain the dust after nearby resident James Smart gathered 75 signatures in a petition calling on the Transportation Department to lessen the effect of the bridges’ demolition on its neighbors.

Because the air quality tests were conducted by a firm hired by the contractor, Smart said he has difficulty believing the results.

“Their inference that everything is fine ... that’s what I find troubling,” Smart said.

Leon Alston, the state’s manager for community relations, said more air quality tests will be conducted and they will continue until the demolition crews complete their work. As well, demolition crews are working an hour later each night to spray dust off cars, streets and sidewalks.