WASHINGTON – A perfectly natural rock formation that cropped up in the middle of a construction site in Catonsville has neighbors worried about their health and calling for state and county regulation of the rock’s removal.
They’re all riled up because the rock is asbestos — a fireproof mineral banned for use in construction because it’s carcinogenic, particularly when particles are inhaled — and Columbia-based Enterprise Homes is crushing it on the construction site of a senior affordable housing complex in Westview Park, a Catonsville neighborhood.
The problem is not the company — which voluntarily halted construction and tested nearby homes for asbestos — but the state’s refusal to adopt the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act to deal with future discoveries, Westview Park resident Steve Whisler said.
There are no state or Baltimore County regulations in place for handling the mineral.
“When they say they don’t have standards in place, they do — it’s called AHERA,” said Whisler, president of the Westview Park Improvement & Civic Association. “The state and the county should apply federal standards that already exist.”
AHERA has multiple requirements, including inspecting known asbestos-containing materials every three years, maintaining up-to-date asbestos management plans and training custodial staff in handling the mineral.
The company has since resumed work, but has stopped crushing rock on site and has conducted asbestos testing inside Westview Park residences. It has not found the substance in any of the homes.
Whisler said Enterprise, which did not respond to a request for comment, has been accommodating, but could do more.
In addition to testing homes for asbestos, the company set up a Web site, rollingroadcleanup.com, to provide updates.
The Westview Park asbestos discovery has highlighted the need for the state to manage any future such findings, said a natural resource manager with the county’s Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management.
“Nobody (in the county) knows exactly how to treat it because nobody knows … how it relates to construction,” manager Bill Clarke said. “It shouldn’t be something the county should do, it should be something done at the state level. It would not be helpful to develop something hyper-local if it’s outside the county, too.”
The Maryland Department of the Environment, however, said there is no need to mandate asbestos-handling guidelines for companies in light of Enterprise’s willingness to remedy the Westview Park situation.
“I look at this as pretty much over — the company has stepped forward and is controlling the dust,” spokesman Robert Ballinger said. “We have worked with the community association and addressed their concerns; what we’ve done is what we felt we had to do for the betterment of public health.”
Ray McLaughlin, who lives across the street from the senior housing site, disagreed. He said his driveway and breezeway are still covered in construction dust that he fears may contain asbestos.
“They tell me I can clean it up, it’s safe, but I don’t think it’s my duty to clean it up … and I’m worried about asbestos in the dust,” McLaughlin said. “We didn’t want this building to begin with and now we got to put up with cleaning up their messes.”
Residents like McLaughlin and Whisler, who Thursday asked Enterprise to conduct tests of caked-on dust on homes and hire a service to clean dust from nearby houses, have the backing of Baltimore County Councilman Sam Moxley, D-Dist. 1, in their hope for state asbestos guidelines.
“What I would like to see is the state and local jurisdictions come up with some kind of an action plan to be able to address the situation should it occur again,” said Moxley, adding that he was “happy” with the way the way the county and Enterprise had handled the Westview Park asbestos situation.
“I think that more needs to be done to prevent this in the future.”