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Normal library studying options to remove asbestos

The newer section of the Normal Public Library on the west side of the facility, pictured here, does not have asbestos in it.

The Normal Public Library is trying to decide what to do about asbestos in the old section of the building.

Interim Director John Fischer said there are several options, including temporarily moving part of the library and its programs to another site while work to remove the asbestos is done.

"If there were to be mitigation, it's unlikely we would be here. If you think about the architecture of the building, the elevator is on the wrong side. It's on the east side and the elevator would be a portion of that mitigated area," said Fischer.

The library board also could decide asbestos mitigation is too expensive and choose to do nothing as long as the material remains sequestered.

The cancer-causing fibers do not threaten public health, said Fischer. They are encapsulated above ceiling tiles and in fireproofing of structural supports, said Fischer. The location does prevents upgrades to computer networks and lighting.

The library became aware of the issue last year during bathroom renovations and has been discussing the situation since November. The departure of a library board chair, two other board members and the library director has delayed decisions, said current board chair Beth Robb.

"I think what the board of trustees has to decide is where the library can continue to succeed," said Fischer.

He said the library board is waiting for engineers to come up with cost estimates and bid preparation documents, adding even the scope of the potential work is not yet known.

Asbestos is often a complicating factor in older buildings if the asbestos-containing material becomes friable and previously encapsulated fibers become airborne. Asbestos was commonly used in insulation and fireproofing for several decades before its cancer-causing properties were widely known.

In February of 2016, Bloomington officials had to close the entire Lincoln Leisure Center while workers removed asbestos from just the boiler room. And in the spring of 2012, the Unit 5 School District was forced to close Chiddix Junior High School for part of the school year while a broader mitigation effort took place.

McLean County courts also have been a center for national lawsuits over asbestos. Chicago-based Union Asbestos & Rubber Company (UNARCO) operated an asbestos manufacturing plant on Bloomington’s west side from 1950-1982, according to the McLean County Museum of History.

UNARCO and successor corporation, Owens Corning, were targeted in product liability cases by hundreds of former plant workers and other people who were exposed to asbestos, and developed cancer or a fibrous condition involving scarring of the lungs called asbestosis.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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