Concerns about asbestos aired during public meeting

Despite rigorous testing that determined naturally occurring asbestos would not be a health concern during construction of Interstate 11, Nevada Transportation Department officials tried to ease some residents’ lingering concerns.

In a public meeting Tuesday night at the Elaine K. Smith Center, residents from across the valley had the opportunity to voice their opinions and ask questions of seven experts about naturally occurring asbestos.

Steve Cooke, environmental manager for the Transportation Department, began the meeting with a presentation about the naturally occurring asbestos, as well as a series of steps that would be taken to reduce the amount of asbestos in the air during construction.

Professors from UNLV discovered the asbestos in Boulder City last year, delaying construction by about four months as the Transportation Department and Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada conducted tests to determine the amount of asbestos in the area.

“It wasn’t something we were anticipating, and we struggled with it a little bit,” Cooke said during the presentation.

The agencies ran more than 600 tests to determine the severity of the asbestos. The results showed the asbestos is in minimal concentrations. Representatives said they don’t see it posing a serious threat.

None of the 150 surface and subsurface rock and soil samples taken by the Transportation Department had concentrations above 0.25 percent, according to test results.

Of the 461 samples tested by the commission, 14 had concentrations above 1 percent, the level where measures need to be taken to reduce risks of exposure.

But the agencies are taking several precautions to minimize the exposure. Some of the actions include thoroughly wetting work areas, avoiding the overfilling of work trucks, and reduce driving speed in work areas.

Cooke said they planned to halt construction during windy days to minimize dust, to which a Boulder City resident of 44 years jokingly suggested that contracts shouldn’t allow any work to be done in March and April.

“It will be blowing very hard, almost all the time,” he said.

Monitoring stations are set up to test the amount of asbestos once the project begins. According to Cooke, Nevada does not have any statutes or regulations specifically regarding naturally occurring asbestos.

Since it is found in 35 of the 50 states including 44 of California’s 58 counties, the Transportation Department worked with the California Transportation Department about mitigation measures.

Cooke also said the tests showed that the naturally occurring asbestos will not have a significant effect on the environment.

Construction is set to begin in May.

Contact reporter Steven Slivka at sslivka@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow @StevenSlivka on Twitter.

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