The presence of asbestos in the nine-story building is hardly a secret. In 1996, for example, The News-Sentinel reported that the removal of the hazardous material during renovations temporarily forced some offices to move. The previous year it was reported that the Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration had inspected the building after telephone crews discovered asbestos falling from a ceiling. And the year before that, the state Department of Health had tested the building's air and declared it asbestos-free after other workers discovered the material.
Even so, Brown said, the issue was not considered this time around until electricians inspecting the building noticed asbestos. The building will be renovated as part of the co-location of most city and county offices, with many moving to the Renaissance Square building at 200 E. Berry St. and others remaining in the City-County Building, 1 E. Main St.
Those employees and others visiting the building are not in danger now and will remain safe from exposure during construction, Brown said, because of several safeguards – including filtration, the isolation of work areas and the use of “negative air pressure” that will not allow particulates to escape. Recent testing has found no asbestos in the building's air supply, he added.
As was common in buildings of that era and older, asbestos was used as insulation and as a fire retardant, especially between floors. In areas that are not disturbed during construction, some of the asbestos can safely remain in place, Brown said. In other areas, it will be removed and replaced with safer materials. Inhalation of asbestos has been linked to a variety of respiratory illnesses.
As early as todaythe County Commissioners are expected to consider contracts to firms that would assess the asbestos level and develop plans and budgets for its containment or removal. Although the city has agreed to share renovation costs, the asbestos-related expenses may be the county's responsibility.
Asbestos must be removed and disposed of under strict procedures intended to protect workers and the public from exposure.
Asbestos-related work could begin early next year, with renovation starting in the spring.