Asbestos Found at Historic House Fire Site

The blaze at the Clemens House – an historic home in St. Louis built by Mark Twain’s uncle – represented a sad loss for the city, and officials have now determined that what’s left behind may likely represent a health hazard as well because of asbestos found in the debris.

A few days ago, investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency located an abundance of asbestos in the aftermath of the fire.

City officials confirmed the findings and released a statement announcing that they would be conducting a health impact assessment for the neighborhood that surrounds the old house, which was vacant at the time of the blaze.

While there’s little chance that the public would actually disturb the debris at the fire site, officials say that the charred debris is indeed “sprinkled throughout nearby neighborhoods”, according to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Residents have expressed concern about exposure and some have even engaged in independent sampling of the debris. Tests came up positive in at least one instance, the newspaper reports.

The development group Northside Regeneration, which owns the house, says it is working to stabilize the structure.

They also claim that work was done several years ago “to remove all the friable asbestos from Clemens.”

This work was completed and on file with the City Health Department, they add.

Asbestos in “tarpaper” that was used as roofing material was not removed at that time, according to a statement from the group.

“After careful consideration, it was decided not to remove this material due to concerns that the removal and resulting weather exposure would further impair the structural safety of the already delicate Clemens structure,” it stated.

Additional samples were collected at the site yesterday and reports will be released as results become available, say city officials. They’ve also placed air monitors in several neighborhoods near the fire site.

These will collect data for the next seven days and then it will be determined whether or not asbestos particles or other contaminants have permeated the air.

“When you’re talking about asbestos, you’re talking about fibers that are being released into the air and possibly being breathed,” said David Bryan, a public affairs specialist for the EPA’s regional office. “The biggest thing with the air monitoring is to eliminate any concern about the fiber being in the air.”

Fire sites often present asbestos hazards, particularly when the buildings that burned are old. Structures built from the late 19th century until about 1980 likely contain materials that include asbestos.

Such materials may include tiles, lagging, pipe insulation, shingles, asbestos concrete, and more. Whenever asbestos-containing materials burn, asbestos exposure is possible, putting firefighters, emergency personnel, police, neighbors, and others at risk.