By Gary Ball
Mountain Citizen Editor
INEZ, Ky. — To justify county government securing a $13 million state loan to build a new government center, Martin County Judge/Executive Kelly Callaham mentioned the old courthouse was filled with asbestos.
This came months after taxpayers were told that the new government center “wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime,” along with rumors that Martin County was in line to receive a new courthouse and if it did not accept the offer, the courthouse would go elsewhere.
This turned out to be partially correct.
The new government center will cost taxpayers. If coal severance tax money will not cover the annual payment on the 25-year loan, the county will have to raise taxes to cover the loan payment.
In addition, a 2013 inspection of the old courthouse by EnSafe, a company from Bowling Green, revealed the old courthouse was filled with “asbestos-containing material” (ACM).
Obtained via an open records request to Callaham, the asbestos inspection that was conducted after Callaham’s plans for the new courthouse were drawn up, substantiates his claim.
However, the problem for former courthouse workers is not that Callaham was not informed about the results of this inspection and did not know. Their main concern is that he did not follow the recommendations of this report — primarily alerting those charged with maintaining the courthouse (housekeeping duties) first and foremost, as well as those who worked in the courthouse every day — of the dangers of asbestos exposure.
Bertha Jude worked as a janitor in the old courthouse for 27 years. Her daughter, Leigh Ann Crum, was her assistant for 13 years. Both said they were unaware of this report and were not told of the asbestos material.
“I asked a county official if there was asbestos in the courthouse and he told me he was told there wasn’t,” Leigh Ann said Friday. “To find out there was and we weren’t told makes me very angry. I feel betrayed.”
The report recommended that three things be done:
* Notify employees of the presence and location of ACM via labels or signs.
* Provide an asbestos awareness training course for employees who perform housekeeping operations in areas that contain ACM.
* Implement specific regulatory requirements for care of asbestos-containing flooring material, if applicable.
Leigh Ann said she was shocked to learn of this.
“I swept up when the wall fell in the back of the old courthouse,” she said. “When the water leaked through the roof, we cleaned it up. We dusted all the time and had no idea this was in the courthouse. There were no signs or labels showing us where asbestos was present, we had no training on asbestos awareness … nothing. Looks like they could have at least given us some kind of protective gear to wear while we were cleaning. This shows how much they care about their workers.”
Her mother, Bertha, echoed the same thoughts.
“We’ve swept up a lot of this stuff and probably breathed a lot of this material into our lungs,” she said. “They should have told us and given us some kind of protective mask or something like that.”
Callaham said he had read the report and that is was hard to understand. Plus, he said it gave no indication of where the asbestos was located.
“I remember reading about lead paint on the doors, but as far as asbestos, it was never clear where it was located,” Callaham said. “Plus, we were told that as long as this material wasn’t disturbed, it was safe to work around it.”
If that is the case — if Martin County decided to leave the asbestos-containing material identified in this report in place — the county was required to prepare an Asbestos Operations and Maintenance Program with the above-mentioned guidelines clearly spelled out and followed.
This, too, was not done.
The report also recommended the county file a Notification of Asbestos Abatement/Demolition/Renovation activities form with the Kentucky Environmental Protection Agency’s Hazard Office (Division of Air Quality) prior to removing asbestos containing material. This means that once this was located and identified, it was believed it would be safely removed and discarded.
That was not done at the courthouse. However, Callaham said the report also included buildings that were to be demolished to make room for the new government center. The county, Callaham said, followed guidelines and hired a contractor to remove the asbestos from those buildings.
“As I said, if it’s not disturbed, it’s okay,” Callaham continued. “Since these buildings were demolished, we had to hire a contractor to remove it. From what I remember, it was pretty expensive.”
Callaham said he was aware that “no work, such as sanding or cutting in areas containing asbestos could be done,” according to the report.
At this time, the county is in discussions of either leasing or giving the old courthouse to a group called “Rural Recovery Inc.,” who want to use the facility for a drug treatment, counseling and testing center.
Callaham, who said it would take fiscal court approval to allow this group or any group to use the building, said as long as the group did not renovate the building in a manner that disturbed asbestos-containing material, it would be okay.
“Now if they go in there and start partitioning off walls and cutting and sanding, that’s different,” he said. “If they do that, they’re going to have to go through the process of having this removed, and as I said, that’s expensive.”
Callaham also noted the possibility of the old courthouse being used for family court.
“From what I understand, the AOC (Kentucky Administrative Office of Courts) is still considering the possibility of using the old courthouse for family court,” he said. “I could get a call today or tomorrow saying they want to do this, so that’s something else we have to consider.”
Callaham noted that a study by the AOC to use the old courthouse came with a $3.2 million price tag for the state to renovate the building.
“I assume that price covers the cost of removing asbestos,” Callaham said.
Gina Patrick, a board member with Rural Recovery Inc., said she hopes her agency can get the old courthouse for use against the drug epidemic. As far as the building containing asbestos, Patrick said she believed as long as this material is not disturbed, they should be able to use it in a safe manner.
(Used and reprinted by permission from the Mountain Citizen, Inez, Ky.)