WMF Calls Attention to Asbestos in Historic Buildings

The World Monument Fund, with its headquarters at the Empire State Building, dedicates itself to “saving the world’s most treasured places”, like Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa and Easter Island’s famed statues.

asbestos in historic buildingsThis year, they’ve begun work on a notable religious building in Myanmar, with ties to the United States, that’s filled with asbestos, so they’re holding meetings with locals to educate them about the dangers of the material.

According to an article from Mizzima, a Myanmar news website, this week a local engineering society will offer a workshop to the general public about asbestos building materials.

Due to the fact that knowledge about the dangers of asbestos is scant in Myanmar (the former country of Burma), the event will aim to “raise public awareness to its health implications, former manufacturing in the country, commonness and possible continued import from other countries.”

The structure upon which the workshop is primarily focused is the Adoniram Judson First Baptist Church of Mawlawyine, a church founded by its namesake, an American missionary.

Through the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation program, the idea for rehabilitating this historic structure came to pass and work began in January of this year. In March, those working on the project discovered that the roof sheeting included concrete fiber interwoven with asbestos fiber.

As such, it was determined that, in Myanmar and many other countries in that part of the world, little attention is given to properly removing asbestos.

Contractors rarely wet the material before removal and workers are given no protective gear to avoid inhalation of asbestos dust.

So, the World Monument Fund decided to use the First Baptist Church project to teach locals how to correctly handle any materials that contain asbestos.

The article adds that asbestos is indeed a huge problem in Myanmar and that the government “put it everywhere.” It was largely used as insulation and, as with the church, as roofing for a variety of buildings.

“Myanmar people need to understand, the effects of asbestos are not immediate; it can take decades before someone has complications, usually in the form of one of a number of cancers,” noted Jeff Allen, project manager for the Judson First Baptist Church rehab project.

“It’s often misdiagnosed too. Workers, their families and the public are put at risk. Implementing its removal requires care and following proper safety procedures, and those depend on the type of asbestos fibres and material.”

Plenty of Americans who worked with asbestos materials during much of the 20th century were also unaware that they could develop serious health problems in the distant future.

And, as in Myanmar, today’s American workers – especially contractors – can still find themselves face-to-face with asbestos materials while on the job especially in older buildings around the United States.

Anyone responsible for demolition or rehabilitation should always be aware of the possibility of encountering asbestos in historic buildings and should be properly trained as to what to do should that encounter happen.