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Asbestos concerns prompt closure of St. Louis streets

A St. Louis intersection recently reopened after being closed for several days due to the likely risk of asbestos exposure in the area. City officials say that risk is now eliminated, but that assurance will likely fail to restore confidence to St. Louis residents who live or work near the intersection, and who fear that the potential asbestos fibers in the area could cause harm to their health.

According to media reports, the risk of asbestos exposure became elevated when a steam pipe ruptured, blowing the cover off a manhole and sending a cloud of steam four stories high. With that cloud came a significant amount of asbestos fiber insulation that had surrounded the ruptured pipe.

Following the explosion, city officials closed parts of Lucas Avenue and North 11th Street in downtown St. Louis. Workers mounted air monitors and tested surfaces for asbestos fibers. When the surface tests revealed the presence of asbestos throughout the area, the steam pipe operator sent crews to clean the streets and building walls.

City officials have now reopened the streets, and the St. Louis health director says that the buildings have been cleaned and that air monitors have not found any airborne asbestos in the intersection or surrounding streets.

Hopefully, that assertion is correct and no asbestos fibers remain in the area. If that were not the case, area residents and workers could inhale the fibers, causing them to become lodged in their airways or lung tissue. Eventually, those fibers could develop into harmful and often-fatal asbestos-related illnesses such as asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Streets reopen after asbestos release," David Hunn, April 12, 2012

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