For decades, the residents of Richardson, North Carolina didn’t give a lot of thought to the presence of an asbestos factory in their midst. While the mill was in operation from 1930 until 1960, few made a big deal about the toxic mineral, even though there was already plenty of proof that it harm to those who inhaled its fibers on a regular basis.
Lots of locals worked at Carolina Asbestos, which manufactured asbestos tiles, shingles, and fabric. Most of these employees were exposed to the mineral on a daily basis, even if they worked in the office or elsewhere in the facility where exposure was more indirect.
And, sadly, the general population of Richardson was at risk as well because the company made it a habit to toss leftover asbestos waste into a ditch on the property. The waste is still there today, though it’s covered with topsoil.
Some say let bygones be bygones. But as a plan to redevelop the old site – most recently known as the Metrolina Warehouse – is getting closer to becoming a reality, it’s evident that the asbestos left behind will still be a problem, especially when it’s disturbed by curious onlookers or even animals.
Recently, the EPA was asked to investigate the site after locals saw what they believed to be asbestos materials in the street. Ken Rhame of the North Carolina EPA confirmed their suspicions.
Ruby Houston, whose home faces a wooded hillside behind the old mill, told WFAE-TV that she wasn’t surprised by the findings. She calls the area she sees from her front window “asbestos hill”. She’s lived there since 1955.
“It’s buried asbestos,” she told a news reporter. “And I think it’s probably more than in this general area. And I’m told it’s buried underneath some homes, some businesses.”
Houston remembers the creek in front of her home turning milky white at certain times of the year. She adds that local teenagers often used to come home from school, put on their swimsuits, and splash in the creek, despite its color. No one really thought about the dangers back then, she explains.
Officials from the EPA still don’t think there’s much to be concerned about. They don’t believe the asbestos contamination in question is a regular occurrence in the area these days.
They believe a soil cap placed over the asbestos-containing ditch in 1980 was recently burrowed by a groundhog, which carried debris into the streets and elsewhere around the neighborhood.
Once the animal’s damage was done, when it rained, runoff from the hill turned white, Houston added. It’s been fixed now but concerns still exist, especially if redevelopment plans involve disturbing the asbestos pile once again.
Nonetheless, another neighbor, Iretha Kerns, told reporters that people in the neighborhood are afraid of development.
“There’s a lot of apprehension, nervousness, and just fear,” Kerns said. “Fear that the asbestos underground is going to become airborne and they’ll start having problems again.”
And there’s resentment, too, she points out. Locals don’t like how Carolina Asbestos and the courts treated those who developed mesothelioma cancer and other illnesses, all due to their exposure to asbestos at the mill.
Often times, the courts sided with the company and denied compensation for those victims, the news report noted. Many were left to fend for themselves.