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EPA Issues Order to Schuyler Heights Fire Department; Reminds Others to Comply with Clean Air Rules

Release Date: 03/21/2000
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(#00044) New York, New York – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found the Schuyler Heights Fire Department in violation of asbestos regulations in the Clean Air Act and ordered the fire department to comply with the rules in the future. In November 1998, the volunteer fire department, located in Watervliet, New York, burned a building located at a former rail yard as part of its training exercises. The building had roofing material that contained asbestos. Under the federal Clean Air Act, materials that contain asbestos must be removed prior to intentional burning.

"I have the utmost respect for the men and women who serve in our volunteer fire departments, but we must ensure that they do not conduct training exercises that could put the very community that they protect in unnecessary risk," said Jeanne M. Fox, EPA Regional Administrator. "I want to remind all fire departments that they must comply with asbestos regulations, which include notifying EPA of their plans to intentionally burn, and removing any material that contains asbestos prior to the burning. Ignorance of these requirements is not an acceptable defense."

Before any building is intentionally burned, all asbestos-containing material must be removed. Whether or not the building contains asbestos, EPA must be notified before it is demolished, unless it is a residential building with less than four residences. Schuyler Heights Fire Department did not remove asbestos roofing material before it burned the rail yard building and did not notify EPA. During the fire, the wind scattered some of the burned asbestos-containing material from the building into the community. Tests conducted a few days later by the New York State Department of Health confirmed that some of this material did contain asbestos.

As a result, the owner of the burned building paid for a contractor to remove the asbestos containing ash from various locations throughout the community, so it is not believed that there is any long-term health concern. Asbestos can cause respiratory ailments such as asbestosis, a degenerative lung disease and mesothelioma, a very rare cancer of the lining of the lungs.

"We just want this and every fire department to be very careful in the future. Asbestos can be dangerous, and it must be treated as such," Fox added.