State Proposes 'Asbestos Watch Area' Near Old Davidson Mill

Jan 16, 2020

State environmental officials want to designate part of the west side of Davidson as an "asbestos watch area." But the renewed discussion about asbestos from an old factory nearby is reviving concerns among residents in the historically African American neighborhood. 

The neighborhood around the former Carolina Asbestos factory near downtown Davidson was the focus of a $3 million cleanup by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2017.  The problem was that asbestos - which can cause cancer and other deadly lung diseases - was used as fill in many yards and driveways decades ago. So EPA contractors removed more than 6,200 tons of contaminated soil from 45 lots. 

But many more weren't tested, and state Department of Environmental Quality officials say even on properties that were cleaned up, there still could be asbestos deeper in the soil or under houses or foundations. They say the "asbestos watch area" label would be a permanent warning that any future work that disrupts soil must take precautions for possible asbestos contamination.  

CALL BEFORE YOU DIG 

Jim Bateson of NCDEQ answered questions about the "asbestos watch area" Monday.
Credit David Boraks / WFAE

DEQ section chief Jim Bateson said property owners, home builders, or road and utility crews - would have to consult with state or local officials before digging or demolition. He said the idea is "to provide a network of professionals who can help residents identify and manage any risks that might be attendant to asbestos that's buried on their parcels." 

Town planners would flag any projects in the zone for special attention. And the designation would appear in county land records, so any future buyers would be warned ahead of time of possible asbestos.

"It will ensure the continued active involvement our agency, DEQ; North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, both their health experts and their asbestos experts; Mecklenburg County Environmental Health, Mecklenburg County Air Quality, and various utilities, and the town of Davidson itself," Bateson said. 

The "watch area" is actually a less stringent form of notice than attaching the warning to a deed, which the DEQ could have pushed for. To do that would have required testing, but only some property owners in the area allowed EPA to conduct tests. Bateson said this treats all the parcels equally. 

"We thought it was better, given the uncertain nature of where this asbestos might have been used as beneficial fill in the past, it was better to define an area that was not attached to any one parcel, where the owners might feel like they were the unfair victims of a taking," Bateson said. 

OLD CONCERNS RESURFACE 

Davidson resident Ruby Houston said residents need education about the asbestos in their neighborhood. Dora Dubose (front) listened.
Credit David Boraks / WFAE

At a community meeting with state and local officials Monday night at the Ada Jenkins Center in Davidson, most residents seemed to understand the need for the designation. A least one was concerned about how it would affect property values. 

But most wanted to remind officials that they're still sore whenever the topic of asbestos comes up. During a heated Q&A, resident Dora Dubose called the designation a "Band-Aid" on a serious problem that she says public officials have ignored for years.  

"You know it's dangerous," she said. "I don't mean to sound like I'm angry, because when our voices escalate, it's because of the pain and the hurt that we've endured for years in this town." 

Another neighbor, Ruby Houston, lives across the street from the old factory, now known as the Metrolina Warehouse. She said officials need to do more to educate residents about the asbestos. 

"Because the fear factor has people upset right now," Houston said. "We're not arguing, we're not fussing. We need peace in this town." 

3 MAP OPTIONS 

The DEQ has proposed three maps for the "asbestos watch area," encompassing small, medium and wide areas of homes. One would map only those parcels that tested positive for asbestos in the past. Another includes parcels around them, and the third, broadest area, includes the entire neighborhood. 

It could be several months before officials settle on a final version. 

Meanwhile, the DEQ is also working with a Charlotte developer that wants to clean up the site and renovate the old mill for shops, offices and a restaurant or brewery. That idea was presented at a public meeting in December.

RELATED LINKS

See a presentation from the Jan. 13 meeting and other information about the Carolina Asbestos site on the Town of Davidson website, http://nc-davidson2.civicplus.com/1159/Asbestos