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Negligent asbestos abatement ends $80-million development in KC

When a developer proposed replacing seven city-blocks’ worth of rundown homes in the southern part of Kansas City with an $80-million retail project to be called Citadel Plaza, officials in our neighboring state were enthusiastic. The thrilling prospect of bustling redevelopment, however, has long since been replaced by the dismaying reality of 35 acres of new brownfields right in the city. Brownfields are parcels of land that can’t be developed because they’re contaminated, and Citadel Plaza is newly polluted with asbestos.

The reason the parcel is newly polluted is because the developer didn’t bother with asbestos abatement when tearing down existing homes on the property -- and older homes are jam-packed with asbestos products from the foundation to the roof. Renovation or demolition disturbs these highly toxic fibers. The wholesale demolition of seven city blocks’ worth of older homes, without proper asbestos abatement, was a disaster.

The Citadel Plaza project collapsed amidst numerous environmental and other lawsuits. In 2012, the lawsuits were finally resolved. Kansas City was out $15 million after settling municipal claims and, for better or for worse, received clear title to the parcel. Just how contaminated the land might be would have to be determined before any plans could be made to redevelop or sell it. If it’s too contaminated to sell without professional abatement, the city is now stuck with most of the cost. There are some bond funds and a $500,000 federal cleanup grant available, but officials are naturally interested in preserving as much money as possible against any lingering issues.

So far, only one of 154 properties tested positive for asbestos in the surface soil. Other testing appears to have ruled out major levels of contamination in any but 68 currently vacant lots. Subsoil contamination, however, is still a possibility on those 68 lots, so more rigorous tests must be done.

Asbestos-abatement contractors are now beginning that testing. Pits have been dug in four to six of the vacant lots, this time with precautions taken to prevent airborne asbestos from escaping and affecting nearby residents. Subsoil testing is expected to take 45 days. If contamination is found, it will be properly cleaned up and additional testing will be done. The city hopes a full cleanup can be done this summer.

Thirty-five years after the asbestos ban, and negligence in handling the toxic fibers is still rearing its ugly head.

Source: The Kansas City Star, “Asbestos cleanup set to begin at former Citadel Plaza development site,” Lynn Horsley, Jan. 20, 2014

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