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Mesothelioma News One year after lethal explosion, a community remembers

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

In Pueblo, Colorado, just over one year has passed since a lethal explosion tore through the site of the Branch Inn, killing one woman, injuring several others, and damaging many local businesses. The explosion, fueled by natural gas, affected a large part of Pueblo’s historic Union Avenue district. Three buildings were ripped apart by the force of the blast, and two others were forced to close for months while repairs were undertaken. Most tragically of all, Ashley Johnson, an employee of A Classic Boutique, was killed in the explosion.

Developers Joe and Jim Koncilja say that they plan to rebuild storefronts on the lots that housed A Classic Boutique and the Crossroads second-hand store. But Joe is quick to admit that the cost of rebuilding this once-flourishing business district will be a challenge.

"When you have an insurance policy on the building and it’s a total loss, the only way you get that amount is if you rebuild," Joe Koncilja explained.

According to Joe Koncilja, the replacement value will be about $80 per square foot. Costs for rebuilding shot up drastically after asbestos was found at the site. Exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma later in life. While mesothelioma is rare, it is a particularly aggressive form of cancer, can kill within months of being diagnosed, in some cases even if the patient is treated with chemotherapy.

Mesothelioma cancer affects under 3,000 new patients in America every year, with that number expected to grow in the coming decades. The removal of debris was financed in part by the insurance company, who provided $25,000. However, Koncilja says that because the debris had been tainted with asbestos during the blast, he had to spend $150,000 to clean up the rubble.