Asbestos cleanup at Wilton mill finally begins in earnest

Windows are boarded and debris piles covered at the former Forster Mill in Wilton.
Ann Bryant | Sun Journal
Windows are boarded and debris piles covered at the former Forster Mill in Wilton.
Posted Aug. 02, 2012, at 5:16 a.m.

WILTON, Maine — The man who is working to remove asbestos from the former Forster Manufacturing mill on Depot Street called it the worst asbestos site he’s experienced in more than 30 years on the job.

“I’ve done over 10,000 projects. This is the worst that’s ever been seen,” Bob Rickett, owner of Abatement Professionals, said Tuesday. “This is the absolute worst.”

Rickett signed a six-figure contract with the property’s owner, Adam Mack, of Wilton Recycling, after a year of efforts by state and federal officials to bring the site into compliance. Rickett began abatement efforts last August, but stopped, claiming that he was owed $75,000 by Mack for work that he had completed.

“We’re pleased that we’re now in our second week of concerted cleanup,” said Samantha Depoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection. “Given the long history of this site, we certainly won’t be celebrating until the cleanup is complete, but it does look like they’re on track to finally make this right.”

Mack said he has wanted to clean up the site since he was first alerted about the presence of asbestos, but said it has been a difficult road.

“I always intended to get the site cleaned up,” Mack said. “Just to get the work funded and all the pieces in place took a little while.”

The site has been a health hazard since last year, when contractor Ryan Blyther, of Scarborough, was hired by Mack to perform demolition work. Blyther’s employees called the Occupational Health and Safety Office and alerted that agency to the lack of proper procedure in handling the asbestos.

Rickett said Blyther endangered human health by ripping asbestos-laden insulation sheaths from pipes and casting them aside.

Inside the building, discarded asbestos was strewn about the floor; much of the material had crumbled into a fine, chalky powder that poses an additional health risk.

Asbestos fibers are known to cause cancer when they are inhaled and lodge themselves in the lungs.

“It’s the smaller fibers that you can’t see that are the problem,” Rickett said.

Rickett’s company began working on the site again early last week.

Work crews in specially designed suits with respirators have been picking up the larger pieces of material and using vacuum cleaners to clean the entire inside.

“Blyther was more concerned about the value of what was underneath this material, which was the steel for the piping. Where it landed was where it sat. It was dragged around everywhere,” Rickett said.

The steel piping, which Blyther recovered and sold, was worth an estimated quarter of a million dollars.

Fines and penalties

Blyther faces $154,200 in fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for workplace safety violations, and was sentenced to six months in prison for stealing money in an unrelated building project.

He and Mack are also likely to be fined by the state DEP, which has been working with the federal Environmental Protection Agency for a year to compel Mack and Blyther to make the site safe.

Depoy-Warren said that once the site has been made safe, the department will continue enforcement actions by entering into consent agreements that establish the fine amounts. Drafts of the agreements have been distributed to the two men.

The penalty proposed for Mack is “considerably less” than the one Blyther faces.

“He was the one that started dismantling things, which caused the asbestos to become a problem,” Depoy-Warren said.

Depoy-Warren said Mack’s proposed penalty was based partly on his failure to correct the problem. If the cleanup is completed on the current schedule, she said, “the penalty may be decreased.”

Mack said he is consulting with a lawyer about the fines and could not comment on them.

He said the project was the first time he worked with Blyther, although the two had been acquaintances for years.

“We had spoken about doing something at the mill. He came to me with a proposal that looked good,” Mack said.

Now, he said, Blyther is gone, and Mack has been left to pick up the pieces.

“Ryan left me a mess, and I’m cleaning it up,” he said.

Getting the work done

Rickett said that he hopes to finish the work ahead of the schedule outlined in the remediation plan, which extends to the end of August.

“Work is progressing as we speak up at the facility,” he said. “I’m expecting by week’s end to probably be 85 to 90 percent complete with my work at the facility.”

Before he clears the site, Rickett said, the work will be reviewed by the federal agency.

“The EPA will come in and test the air quality, inspect it, clear it, and then we’ll be out of there,” he said.

After the work is completed, Mack plans to demolish the building.

Depoy-Warren said he has an incentive to try to complete the project quickly — the fact that it will allow for the sale of valuable salvage materials.

“The faster they can get this cleaned up, the faster they can begin doing the demolition, which means they can start making money on this project instead of spending money,” she said.

Mack said that the sale of the salvageable materials will pay for the entire remediation project.

Depoy-Warren said the cleanup is a major success for the department, which has been working continually for 12 months to make headway.

“From the beginning, we’ve been promising the public and the community that the site would be cleaned up,” she said. “It seems like we’re almost there.”

Rickett said that Central Maine Power Co. and the Wilton Water Co. were helpful in temporarily restoring utility services to the building to facilitate the project.

“It’s been a community effort to get this thing cleaned up,” Rickett said.

(c)2012 Morning Sentinel (Waterville, Maine)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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