Asbestos at former base

State health officials have stopped demolition work on the former Charleston Naval Base after asbestos was found.

State environmental officials have stopped demolition work on steam pipes at the former Charleston Naval Base because they were wrapped in asbestos.

State Department of Health and Environmental Control officials visited the site last week in response to an anonymous complaint, and the inspector found what appeared to be asbestos and halted work, DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley said Thursday.

Later tests by two laboratories indicated that the material was asbestos, he said.

The work site is a fenced-in yard just south of the base’s former power plant. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral once used for insulation; it no longer is used because it can cause cancer.

In other cases, the Environmental Protection Agency has cracked down on asbestos violations with fines of up to $25,000 per day per violation, and some fines have reached into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Beasley said the work did not appear to pose a threat to the public health. “It appears to be controlled situation there,” he said. “It’s contained. We don’t see any threat that still exists.”

The Noisette Co. owns the site and hired AAA Metal Co. to remove the obsolete pipes, Noisette Director of Development Jeff Baxter said.

Baxter said AAA did not have the proper permit. “Our agreements was that the proper permits would be pulled. I’m not sure where the breakdown occurred,” he said. “Since that time, we’ve worked very closely with DHEC to ensure the area is cleaned up properly and is safe.”

Attempts to reach a AAA Metal representative for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

Beasley said Noisette now must hire a contractor qualified to handle asbestos. “They had to stop the work, clean up and decontaminate before any additional work can be performed,” he said.

Asked if there will be any fines or citations, Beasley said, “I wouldn’t want to speculate on that, but our No. 1 concern right now is to just get the job done right and protect the health of individuals there, as well as the health of the surrounding environment.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.