Asbestos Scare Closes Miami Museum

The Miami Science Museum, which was closed when asbestos was discovered in a mechanical room, recently reopened with what museum spokesmen called a clean bill of health after detailed inspections of the facility. This asbestos incident was triggered when a former museum employee went to a local newspaper, complaining that insulating material from a ceiling had fallen on him and his coworkers. However, an operating officer at the museum said that the material the employee described was tested and found free of asbestos. That staff member said the material was found near the mechanical room. According to news reports, the asbestos was present in the insulation of just one wall of a room the museum’s planetarium houses. However, according to environmental regulators from both Miami-Dade County and the museum, widespread sampling found no indication of the dangerous material anywhere else in the building. According to county and museum regulators, highly thorough testing also failed to expose any traces of asbestos in the museum air, both before and after the removal of the material. Patrick Wong, division chief at Miami-Dade’s Department of Environmental Resources Management, explained that the material in the mechanical room was basically intact when they discovered it.  Wong also said that the material was not airborne. According to the operating officer, the asbestos found in the planetarium’s mechanical room is likely from the building’s construction, which took place about 40 years ago, before the health risks asbestos posed was widely known. The material was once commonly found in insulation and fireproofing materials used in construction and can result in severe respiratory harm, including a specific form of lung cancer, if it is breathed in. Asbestos exposure can occur when the material’s structural integrity is compromised and it crumbles, spreading into the air. However, since these risks have been understood, the use of asbestos has largely been discontinued. The museum operating officer went on to explain that so far no evidence has surfaced of employee exposure to airborne asbestos particles. Nevertheless, the spot checks conducted throughout the museum did indeed indicate asbestos material is in that mechanical room. This is just the latest instance of a public facility containing dangerous asbestos material. Although banned for use in construction today, many older buildings contain the material because they were built before the danger of asbestos use was fully understood by regulatory agencies. Experts argue incidences like this might remain common because of the material’s heavy use in construction from the 1940s to the 1970s. Previous: New Standard for Testing Asbestos Levels in Soil Next: Supporters Push Zadroga Bill, 9/11 First Responder Aid