Old hospital building shut down, sealed off
The old Columbus hospital was shut down and sealed off last Friday at the direction of the Stillwater County Attorney, who deemed it a “public nuisance” in light of the discovery of 15,000 square feet of asbestos and other “contaminants of concern” found in a grant-funded assessment of the structure.
Citing the legal definition of public nuisance as being “anything that is injurious to health, indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere wit the comfortable enjoyment of life or property….,” Rohde wrote a “public nuisance is one which affects, at the same time, an entire community or neighborhood or any considerable number of persons, although the extent of the annoyance or damage inflicted upon individuals may be unequal.”
Rohde’s letter was delivered to the Stillwater County Commissioners late last week and on Friday, April 28, Commissioner Mark Crago took action on three steps that Rohde advised be taken immediately “based on the potential health risk” the building poses. Those steps were as follows:
•The entire structure has been shut down and sealed off.
•The furnace system that services the Extension Office in the West Annex, as well as the furnace located in the break room of the old hospital, were shut down as a precaution pending air samples.
•Arrangements for air samples and mold samples had been arranged to be conducted by Northern Industrial Hygiene, Inc. The company is expected to conduct those tests as early as this week.
County Facilities Supervisor Jerry Bokma, who has an office and a workroom located there, and Bokma’s employees were pulled from the building and no one was permitted to re-enter until the air samples are taken and the results are back.
During a Monday morning meeting regarding Rohde’s letter, Commissioner Maureen Davey said she had spoken with the Montana Association of Counties for liability reasons and that organization’s safety officer would be coming to conduct his own inspection of the building.
“Safety for our employees is paramount,” said Davey. “We will do whatever it takes.”
The assessment of the building was done in early March by Weston Solutions, Inc., Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team (START) out of Colorado at the request of the commissioners. The assessment was sought as Commissioners Davey and Shupak want to remodel the building for use of county offices.
When Weston was asked last week by the county if the building was safe for county workers to access, the company said further testing would need to be done in order to determine that.
Weston also stated that there were “areas of disturbance for building materials identified as ACM (asbestos-containing material) as part of our TBA Phase II ESA were observed during the asbestos survey,” according to an email.
That disturbance was the removal of drywall and other material for demolition purposes by Bokma or his employees. At the Monday meeting, Bokma said that demolition work began about two years ago and the drywall had been disposed of at the Columbus City dump. Bokma also said that PCB light ballast had accidentally been thrown away by a worker and that he had reported that to the Department of Environmental Quality.
Bokma also said workers had been given respirators and Tyvek suits to wear during the removal of the material, but that he didn’t know if they were used.