Irving Elementary school in Joplin, Missouri was destroyed by a tornado in May of last year. As a result, it has to come down. The problem is that, like most buildings of that era, the school is loaded with asbestos building materials. Asbestos is perfectly safe when bound to a building material, but when the material is crushed, asbestos can contaminate the air and ground. Breathing in asbestos fibers can cause a number of respiratory illnesses and ailments, including a deadly cancer called mesothelioma.
Usually when a building with asbestos materials is demolished, the asbestos is carefully dealt with first, but in a case like this one, where a building is structurally unsound, that method is dangerous and impractical. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has approved using the “wet method” to demolish the building – literally keeping the demolition area wet to prevent dust from rising – but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concerns, and those concerns have caused two delays so far. The school board hopes to demolish the school and two others and rebuild them to open in December 2013.