When a building that housed a Mexican restaurant in Minneapolis was slated for renovation last year in order to make way for a new tenant, area residents were happy to learn that the site would be given a new lease on life…until the contractor removed asbestos-containing floor tiles and left them at the site, potentially exposing locals to dangerous asbestos dust.
According to an investigative report on Fox 9 News, the owner of the building, Denny Rutledge, claims he left all the renovation and design decisions up to his partner, Steve Knisely, including what to do with the hazardous floor tiles after they were removed from the old restaurant.
Savvy local residents immediately recognized the tiles for what they were – asbestos. They also recognized that something wasn’t right, so they took photographs of the broken tiles as they sat in a trailer outside the restaurant last September. The crumbling tiles weren’t covered. Rather, they were exposed to the air and breezes may have carried the dangerous asbestos dust throughout the neighborhood, residents say. The residents also took their own samples and had them tested. They came back positive for asbestos.
Furthermore, it was clear that Knisely and his team of workers didn’t know the particulars of asbestos abatement or simply ignored the rules. The tiles hadn’t been wet down before removal, so it was likely that the dust also circulated during demolition. There is no word as to whether the workers were wearing protective gear or if they were also at risk for asbestos exposure, which can eventually cause mesothelioma and other lung diseases. Furthermore, the material never went to a qualified landfill.
Residents say they called the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), but there was no response until they were contacted by the local Fox television station. At that point, it was too late. Apparently, the agency missed two opportunities to intercept the material – at the site and at the landfill, which was not licensed to accept toxic waste.
Apparently, the first agency member that took the call failed to pass the information on to anyone else in the chain of command. So the tile continued to sit – unwrapped – in a dumpster. When it was finally removed, the second mistake was made and it was taken to the Meeker County landfill, which is not permitted to accept asbestos-containing materials.
The agency says it was an unfortunate situation but lauds the concerned neighbors for the action they took. Jeff Connell, an official with the MPCA, said he finds the two-day lapse “extremely disappointing” but notes that because the state didn’t take the samples, they can’t definitively confirm that there was asbestos in the tiles.
The neighbors beg to differ.