GREENSBORO — City employees and contractors may have been exposed to asbestos while working toward the demolition of War Memorial Auditorium.
The exposure, which may have begun as early as August and was reported online by YES Weekly on Monday, is the focus of an investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The administration is expected to finish its investigation next week, according to city officials.
"One of our staff members went through in August and identified that there may be some asbestos," said city spokesman Donnie Turlington in an interview Tuesday.
The building, constructed in 1959, was closed in September and readied for demolition.
"At the same time, right after the building closed, they also went through the auction process — seats, getting seats and furniture out of there," Turlington said. "A scrap company agreed to take out a lot of things. In the process of the scrappers going in to pull out the stuff, they disturbed some of the asbestos."
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Turlington said there seems to have been a "miscommunication" that allowed the scrappers to continue their work despite the knowledge of asbestos, which can cause cancer and lung disease if workers are exposed to it.
Brandon Hill, a construction project manager with the city, described the problem in an e-mail on October 13, after which work was halted and the building shut down.
“What we found was the worst case scenario of what we tried to warn staff about in August," Hill wrote. "By allowing the scrappers and everyone else to come into the building before it was abated has caused a rather large issue."
“No one should be allowed in the building from this point on," Hill wrote. "Anyone working in the building should be removed. The doors are to be covered with plywood and taped. No one should enter the building.”
It is not clear how many contract workers or city employees may have been exposed, Turlington said. The best estimate is currently fewer than 6, Turlington said.
Greensboro City Council members were not made aware of the problems until this week, Turlington said.
"We've actually got some information that's going out to the council now," Turlington said Tuesday. "The city manager's office is getting their hands down into it now. It's just one of those things where we were trying to get the facts and details together."
Tonight’s concert by R&B group The O’Jays will be the auditorium’s last event.
Contact Joe Killian at (336) 373-7023, and follow @JoeKillianNR on Twitter.