Throughout the U.S., there’s a long list of old factories that sit idle, filled with who-knows-what on the inside, while crumbling on the outside. These are structures that present health hazards to those who live and work near them.
Sometimes, communities are able to convince the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to come in and initiate an asbestos clean-up. Such is the case of an old bag-making factory in the small town of Canajoharie, New York, situated on the Mohawk River and home to about 3,800 individuals.
The factory in question, the Arkell and Smith Sack Company, was a major employee in the town – along with Beech Nut Baby Food Company – from the 1860s until 1952.
The company was considered the leader of the paper sack industry, having produced the very first paper sacks for the flour and sugar industries, replacing more expensive cotton sacks. The buildings in which it operated had several other uses after the company moved out, but has been vacant for the last 10 years.
The EPA was notified in 2015 by the town’s mayor that he was concerned about deteriorating conditions at the old facility and noticed that buildings at the complex seemed to be getting ready to collapse. The agency came in and took samples in early 2016.
The result was the determination that asbestos from the deteriorating structures had the potential to impact the surrounding area because it had become friable enough for fibers to spread beyond the building. This was of special concern because there are residential properties located less than 30 feet from the defunct factory.
On the 2.6-acre site, the EPA will demolish the seven interconnected buildings and will then remove or secure asbestos materials at the site and then transport them to a waste facility that accepts the toxic material. The air will be monitored at all times during the operations and locals will be advised to stay away from the area as much as possible.
Though there is likely a great deal of asbestos on site, the Arkell and Smith factory complex will not be deemed a Superfund site as it does not meet the qualifications. However, similar to what the EPA does with sites that are Superfund designated, the agency will demand payment from the polluters, not the taxpayers. Hence, liable parties will be held responsible for all costs pertaining to the investigation and clean-up.
In the meantime, it’s likely that individuals who worked at Arkell and Smith Sack Company, as well as for the companies that occupied those buildings once the paper bag manufacturer moved out, are concerned about their health. It is obvious that asbestos has been present in that facility for many years, so regular exposure was commonplace for those who worked inside.
Thankfully, some victims of workplace asbestos diseases, like mesothelioma, have been able to receive compensation for their suffering by filing lawsuits against negligent companies like those in Canajorharie, NY, while others have gained funds from asbestos trusts that were set up to compensate those injured by exposure to the toxic mineral. Asbestos suits will continue to be filed as more scenarios like this one unfold.