ASBESTOS-GATE: CASE ORDERS HALT OF COURTHOUSE DEMOLITIONS

Montgomery County Courthouse, circa 1935.

January 20, 2017 – Building Maintenance Department Director Paul Case ordered all employees of the county department to halt any work that would involve perforation of the walls of the Montgomery County Courthouse. Case issued the order during a staff meeting of his Department on Friday, January 20. Case held meetings for several hours during the day with Montgomery County Safety Officer Curtis Fitzgerald who completed asbestos exposure reports for three county employees after they suffered severe chrysotile 6 asbestos inhalation on December 30 during a demolition of the old 221st District Court.

In violation of the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (signed into law by President Reagan in 1986), on January 6, 2017, the Building Maintenance Department attempted an asbestos abatement without filing proper notification of the State Department of Health Services. The asbestos cloud arose when Case ordered the three county technicians to demolish a wall, constructed around 1935, which contained friable asbestos. They continued their work for two hours before stopping and reporting severe respiratory problems to Fitzgerald. The work area was directly under an intake air-conditioning duct, although Case has told The Golden Hammer that the duct system for that area of the courthouse only serves a small area.

There have been at least two other incidents involving asbestos safety concerns during construction inside the Courthouse. In 2011, during remodeling of the Courtroom for District Judge Lisa Michalk, 221st District Court, friable asbestos problems arose during the construction. Later, the staff of County Court at Law Number Two, Judge Claudia Laird presiding, suffered respiratory problems when working in that courtroom for long periods of time. Judge Laird and her staff asked for a relocation to another temporary courtroom. Additionally, Case has now indicated to several of the employees in the Building Maintenance Department that he and Rob Wright, as well as several other employees, may have suffered an exposure to friable asbestos during a demolition inside the courtroom between December 20 and December 23, 2016.

The construction has proceeded without an asbestos survey, which constitutes another violation of federal and state laws as well as City of Conroe ordinances. It is not unusual for buildings as old as the main (middle) section of the Courthouse, located at 301 N. Main in Conroe, to have friable asbestos within the building materials. Any demolition of buildings constructed before 1970 usually do not occur without an asbestos survey, if one follows acceptable industry practices.

Commissioner James Noack is presently overseeing the purchase of rights-of-way for the Rayford Road expansion which involves the purchase of several homes of approximately 1950 vintage. Prior to any demolition work, Noack ordered asbestos surveys of each property in order to protect both the county workers and the contractors involved.

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