More Asbestos Found on Florida Highway

Road workers in Florida are still finding masses of dangerous asbestos at a highway construction site near Fort Myers. Work crews employed by Lee County to look into the site near Summerlin Road came across three pieces of the dangerous substance on the site’s east side. They also exposed asbestos-laced concrete chunks that had been hidden under the surface of the road, in trenches excavated up to eight feet deep along the side of the highway.

These most recent findings, combined with more than thirty pieces of affected concrete retrieved on the west side of the crossing of Summerlin Road and College Parkway last month, are part of the mounting evidence uncovered during a probe of the contracting firm involved in road improvements at the intersection. The ongoing investigation has held up the project that was expected to widen Summerlin Road to two more lanes. Work on the project, with an estimated cost of $25.2 million, has been at a standstill for almost two months.

Lee County’s director of transportation, Scott Gilbertson, has said that investigators with his office want to be sure that the amount of information they are able to gather on the potential contamination in the area is complete before they allow workers to restart on the project. As a result, he is not able to offer a schedule as to when work on the project can resume. He also said that his workers will “have to dig through” the site for potential additional asbestos findings before he can clear the site as a safe working environment.

Officials with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, along with Lee County investigators and workers with Posen Construction, continue to work towards determining the level and extent of the asbestos contamination at the proposed site. If the amount of asbestos fiber found exceeds two hundred sixty linear feet, executives with Posen could be charged with violations of worker safety and environmental laws, punishable by jail time or fines of up to ten thousand dollars per day.

Although workers with the company are cooperating in the investigation, attorneys with the firm have not claimed any responsibility for the contamination. Officials with the company have also refused to answer questions from the press detailing their involvement in using the contaminated materials. However, Posen has hired out another contracting firm that specializes in asbestos removal and remediation to report on the site and to help with other facets of the probe.

Lee County Commissioner Brian Bigelow voiced his hope that the data compiled by the investigators would reveal the level of potential health hazard that the asbestos-laced concrete could pose to both workers and to drivers using the newly expanded road. Although asbestos is considered “safe” as long as it stays bonded to the concrete material, the fibers can become highly dangerous when allowed to become loose and airborne, according to agency staff at the Department of Environmental Protection. DEP workers carried out air and soil quality tests at the site and have yet to find any loose fibers, but the investigation will continue until all parties can resolve the contamination issue.