EPA finds asbestos near site of Clemens House fire

An historic north st. louis mansion burns to the ground- and it's what's left behind that has many neighbors concerned for their health.

ST. LOUIS - Asbestos was found in samples taken by the EPA near the site of a fire at an historic mansion, a press release from the Mayor's office said Tuesday.

The Clemens House burned to the ground last week, but it's what's left behind that has many neighbors concerned for their health.

On Monday, EPA contractors canvassed the neighborhoods directly in back of the James L. Clemens House. They collected samples of dust and debris which they took back to their labs for testing. On Tuesday, the Mayor's office announced the findings.

The next step is for the St. Louis Health Department and EPA to conduct a Health Impact Assessment in the neighborhood, which will include air monitoring to see if there is any airborne asbestos.

The St. Louis Health Department reached out to the EPA, which sampled the homes along Helen and Mullanphy Streets for toxic contamination. The EPA collected bulk samples of debris which it sent back to its labs for testing, but it was not able to collect samples from the Clemens House itself.

"Part of their protocol is that they have to have permission from the property owner," Williams explained.

The mayor’s office tells us that it has reached out to the owner, Paul McKee. So far, he has denied them access. The city is now working with its legal team to resolve the issue.

On Monday, neighbors voiced concerns about the charred debris strewn through their walkways and in their yards.

"I think we're in the middle of a hazardous site,” said Terry Chapman, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years.

A spokesperson on behalf of McKee said they are waiting for the insurance to give the OK before letting anyone on to the property. That’s because the building is not stable.

In a statement, the spokesperson wrote:

“Once we receive assurance that the Clemens house is deemed structurally safe, it will be available for entry and inspection and any necessary testing. We look forward to working with the authorities to solve this apparent crime.”

City officials are now working with the EPA on an action plan. Until then, the EPA recommends residents not disturb any debris from the fire until more testing can be conducted.

On Thursday, the EPA announced there was no airborne asbestos found in the first full day of an air monitoring program.

Clemons House statement

Both the City and EPA have been in close contact with NSR, but NSR's insurance company would not permit access because they believe the site is unsafe.  However, we expect EPA to be on-site today.
NSR hired Lafser & Associates several years ago to remove all the friable asbestos from Clemens; this work was completed and on file with the City Health Department.  Roofing material, like the “tarpaper” materials commonly found in older structures, did test positive for asbestos; after careful consideration, it was decided not to remove this material due to concerns that the removal and resulting weather exposure would further impair the structural safety of  the already delicate Clemens’ wood structure. 

The EPA is planning to install air-monitoring equipment July 19 and NSR has offered to permit them on any of NSR properties!
Once demolition bids and process are finalized with the insurance company and City, NSR will authorize them to proceed and stabilize and clean up this historic site.

© 2017 KSDK-TV


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