by Ben Holder | @jeffreysykes

City Officials are concerned about asbestos exposure that took place late this summer at the War Memorial Auditorium.

According to city emails, city staff was aware of the asbestos dangers present at War Memorial as early as August. However, weeks went by before any preventive action was taken. After working for weeks in dangerous conditions, employees were finally taken out of the hazardous situation after an Enpuricon representative (abatement contractor) expressed concern during an inspection of the auditorium in October.

The abatement contractor’s concern led to a meeting between City of Greensboro Construction Project Manager Brandon Hill and an asbestos testing agent from Trinity Environmental.

On Oct. 13, Hill wrote an email that described the meeting. “What we found was the worst case scenario of what we tried to warn staff about in August. By allowing the scrappers and everyone else to come into the building before it was abated has caused a rather large issue. There is asbestos on the floors that needs to be removed ASAP”¦” Hill ended his email by ordering the building to be evacuated. “No one should be allowed in the building from this point on. Anyone working in the building should be removed. The doors are to be covered with plywood and taped. No one should enter the building.”

The Auditorium, which was built in 1959, is scheduled for demolition and has been closed since September. Today, the entrance doors are littered with asbestos warning signs. Printed on the red tape stuck across the doors are the words, “Danger” and “Asbestos Hazard.”

A city employee close to this situation that wished to remain anonymous initially reported the asbestos issue to YES! Weekly. “The city had the coliseum maintenance staff doing clean up and pre demolition work all summer. Some of the guys that were hired … would end the day covered in that stuff,” the employee said.

Enpuricon had been scheduled to begin asbestos abatement in early October, but the work had to be delayed until clean up was completed. A company representative said the work is set to resume on Dec. 29.

City officials say that a major miscommunication is to blame for the set of circumstances that resulted in a workplace safety complaint to the North Carolina Department of Labor and so far has cost the city more than $33,000. The city’s engineering and inspections staff received a copy of an asbestos survey in early August that confirmed the material was present in several locations, including the boiler room, decorative borders in the original lobby on the Mezzanine Level and floor tiles. Asbestos was common in commercial construction prior to 1971, when the EPA classified the material as a hazardous pollutant.

The asbestos in the WMA was classified as “in good condition” by the site survey, and would not have caused a problem unless disturbed. The city had contracted with Enpuricon, an Apexbased asbestos removal company, to remove the material before the auditorium was to be torn down. Coliseum staff stated at the time of the last performance at WMA on Sept. 5 that the demolition would begin in late October.

After the Sept. 5 finale for the WMA, the city’s finance staff was responsible to manage an auction of memorabilia from the auditorium on Sept. 10.

“The Coliseum auctioned the contents of the War Memorial Auditorium, which included furniture, appliances and other objects of value. The highest bidder would be permitted to remove the contents for recycling or resale,” wrote Matthew Schweitzer, the city’s safety administrator, in a summary document related to the Department of Labor complaint.

The document states that “an individual named Bogee was the highest bidder. The salvage process began on Sept. 17 and continued until Oct. 13.”

Near the end of the time period, copper piping insulated with air cell insulation containing 10 percent asbestos was removed.

“It is important to note that copper piping was not on the items listed for auction,” Schweitzer wrote.

Work in the building came to a halt on Oct. 13, but the chain of events is unclear. One stream of email communication gives insight into the process. In addition to the salvage, certain aspects of the WMA boilers and pipe systems had to be protected because they are integral to the Coliseum facility next door.

Crews from Discca Environmental, a Greensboro-based mechanical, electrical and HVAC firm, were in the boiler area of the WMA capping pipes that would continue to be part of Coliseum operations.

An account representative from Discca emailed Coliseum maintenance staffer Kelly Pendleton about 12:45 p.m on Oct. 13.

“Some folks came by the site while (crews members) where there and told them the jacket on the insulation was asbestos and not to touch it,” wrote Mark Lewis. “By that time we had already cut it.”

Pendleton emailed up the chain to Mike Perdue, the Coliseum’s building supervisor, and Brandon Hill.

“Do we have the asbestos survey that was done recently? Can someone share it with me so I know what we are dealing with?” Pendleton wrote. “We have a lot of work to be done in and around the boilers and it would be best to know what is there.”

Hill replied that representatives from Enpuricon had “walked the building last week.”

After discovering that salvage operations had left a contaminated facility, the Enpuricon representative noted that clean up was not part of the scope of their contract.

“Due to these concerns and the asbestos scattered around, Enpuricon will be sending me a revised proposal,” Hill wrote in requesting that Coliseum staff seal the WMA. “What is onsite is not only an abatement issue but a cleanup now.”

Randall Jones, president of Enpuricon, said his company was prepared to deploy to the WMA in early October to begin the asbestos abatement, but were confronted with a contaminated facility due to improper activities once they arrived.

“Typically the abatement is performed and then general demolition follows afterward,” Jones said. “In this situation, a decision was made on the owner’s end to allow vendors to come in an perform salvage activities prior to the asbestos abatement.”

Jones said examples of the problem activities included asbestos pipe insulation stripped off of copper or cast iron lines and thrown on the floor. Enpuricon did not perform the cleanup work, Jones said.

City staff confirmed that Lexingtonbased Abatemasters Inc. performed the cleanup work at a price of $33,618.

Jones said that both the NC Department of Labor and the Health Hazardous Control Unit from the state Division of Public Health were contacted following the discovery of contamination.

Donnie Turlington, the spokesperson for the City of Greensboro, said the Department of Labor sent the city a notice of asbestos exposure and that the findings are due Dec. 29.

Jones said that Enpuricon is ready to resume the abatement process next week, and that the work should take three weeks. !