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Havre safety committee discusses City Hall heavy metal remediation


Last updated 10/13/2022 at 11:17am

Havre Daily News/Patrick Johnston

Havre City Council's Safety Committee conducts a meeting Wednesday in Havre City Hall to hear reports on environmental safety issues in City Hall, particularly in the Havre Fire Department.

The Havre City Safety Committee met Wednesday and heard an evaluation of asbestos and heavy metal levels at City Hall, particularly the Havre Fire Department, an evaluation that found no dangerous contamination in the air, but did find concerning levels of surface contamination.

Industrial Hygienist Keith Cron of Hygienix LLC said he's been performing tests in various areas of the building in the past few months at the request of the city and he wanted to give a rundown of his findings.

The issues regarding asbestos and lead at the fire department were the subject of a controversy earlier this year with city council member Josh Miller alleging that the city has known about the issue for some time and not done anything about it, and Havre Mayor Doug Kaercher saying his administration only learned about the issue recently and since then has worked to have the problems studied and remedied.

Two of the biggest problems at the department are the ceiling texture, which is falling off and has tested positive for asbestos fibers, and the presence of lead in the shooting range, both of which could be serious issues for people who work in those spaces.

Earlier this year Kaercher said when he learned of these issues he reached out to Cron, who would perform tests and help put together a remediation plan.

At Wednesday's meeting, Cron said his tests on air in the building found no dangerous levels of asbestos, lead or anything else, which was the biggest concern.

"That's the good news," he said.

However, he said, there are areas in the building, particularly the west half of the building, that have significant surface contamination with either asbestos or heavy metals.

Cron said there's no legal threshold for safe levels of asbestos, but the numbers he found are definitely above his personal threshold of concern.

Havre Fire Chief Nathan Courtnage said his department is being careful by wiping down surfaces and cleaning up when texture from the ceiling falls to the ground, which has been an issue in recent years.

Cron said the more concerning issue for him is the heavy metal levels he found on surfaces, particularly around the historic gun range, which has been closed to the public.

He said he researched the various metals associated with firing ranges and tested for all of them around the building and found they were above levels set out in law, though some weren't over by much.

He said antimonium, arsenic, cadmium, nickel and tin were over the thresholds, but the levels were still pretty low in a relative sense.

Copper, zinc and lead were the metals that were over the threshold by the most, with lead levels being particularly problematic, he said.

After the meeting Cron said that while the numbers he got are concerning, it's important to note that the really extreme reading generally came from surface areas that aren't used by employees with any frequency, and readings taken in the areas most commonly frequented by people were not nearly as high.

He said the level of heavy metals he found on surfaces throughout the building are concerning and he's not going to say that they can't have any effect on someone's health, but the situation isn't catastrophic.

Havre Police Chief Gabe Matosich reiterated that it's important for people to know that the air in the building showed no indication of being dangerous.

Matosich also said that he's been working in the building for 25 years, frequently using the areas in question, and he recently got tested for lead, tests that came back normal, though he noted that this was admittedly anecdotal.

Havre Public Works Director Dave Peterson said if anyone else is concerned about exposure the city will cover the costs of any tests that aren't already covered by insurance.

Cron and the committee also discussed the specifics of the remediation process, which is still being drawn up.

Cron said contractors are really busy at the moment and some things can't be done until after winter ,but said there are things people in the buildings can do to minimize risk while a plan for full remediation is drafted.

Courtnage said his department has already closed one of the more problematic hallways and are being careful wiping down surfaces.

Cron said while the majority of the issue is in the western half of the building, asbestos was found in the eastern half as well, and as the plan develops he can keep people updated on how the plan will affect their day-to-day work.

He also said he still has some work to do evaluating the building's ventilation systems and seeing if there are any issues to be found there, but asbestos and heavy metals are the more immediate concerns.


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