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Concerns Over Minority Hiring Dominate Asbestos Cleanup Meeting In North St. Louis

Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

Updated after the public meeting on 4-10-2014:

The meeting hosted Thursday night by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was supposed to focus on the first phase of the $30 million cleanup of the former Carter Carburetor plant in North St. Louis. That first phase involves removing asbestos from the site's main building.

Asbestos removal is scheduled to begin on April 21 and take about six months to complete. Once that's done, the buildings can be demolished and the contractors can begin carting away contaminated soils and debris. Under the EPA's Superfund program there is no specific deadline for finishing the cleanup, although last summer the agency estimated it would take three or four years.

Credit Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio
The project manager for contractor AMEC, Gene Watson, talks about the company's plans for hiring minorities to work on the Carter Carburetor cleanup. Meeting attendees ― many of them would-be workers on the project ― look on.

Most of the discussion at Thursday night's meeting did not focus on the asbestos abatement itself, however. Instead, much of the often heated questioning centered on concerns over minority hiring. The bulk of the criticism was aimed at the plant’s former owner, ACF Industries, its main contractor, AMEC, and the subcontractor that will be handling the asbestos removal, Midwest Service Group.

Yaphett El-Amin is the executive director of MOKAN, a minority business advocacy group.

She repeatedly asked whether the companies involved in the cleanup would commit to hiring a specific percentage of minority workers. The answer was "no."

El-Amin said her organization would do everything it could to change that.

“We’re not going to allow folks from Hillsboro, folks from Hayti, folks from Caruthersville, to come into this community and work, while unemployment rates in this community for African American men stagger up into the high 30s,” El-Amin said.

Representatives of ACF Industries and its contractors declined to comment for this story.

But a representative of Midwest Service Group told meeting attendees that 35 percent of the work-hours on the asbestos removal project would be carried out by minorities and women.

That answer didn't satisfy Daniel Coleman. He's with Volition, a local trucking and excavating company.

Speaking after the meeting, Coleman said he wants to see the cleanup generate jobs for the people of North St. Louis – most of whom, like Coleman, are African American.

“I just get tired of these big jobs come about, and we don’t ever get included," Coleman said. "We’re always the last to find out.”

Two private companies – ACF Industries and Carter Building, Inc. – are footing the bill for the overall cleanup of the Carter Carburetor site. Because federal tax dollars are not funding the work, an EPA spokesperson said the agency has no legal authority to set minority hiring requirements for the project.

Representatives for U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D) and Roy Blunt (R) attended the meeting, along with Alderman Freeman Bosley, Sr., who represents the district where the Superfund site is located.

Here's our earlier story about the meeting, which has more information on cleanup plans for the Carter Carburetor site:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is hosting another public meeting Thursday night to talk about cleanup efforts at the old Carter Carburetor plant in north St. Louis.

The former manufacturing plant closed in 1984. Its remaining buildings are contaminated with PCBs, mercury, trichloroethylene (TCE) and other industrial waste.

This phase of the cleanup will focus on removing asbestos from the site's main CBI Building.

Credit Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio
The Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club is located across Dodier St. from the Carter Carburetor EPA Superfund site.

The EPA and a contractor for the plant’s former owner, ACF Industries, will be at the meeting to discuss the asbestos abatement plans.

EPA spokesperson Chris Whitley said the cleanup will not pose a risk to area residents.

“There will be air monitoring done to ensure that there’s no dangerous level of contaminants being spread by the demolition work or the cleanup work,” Whitley said.

Asbestos removal is scheduled to begin later this month. Whitley said he expects the cleanup will probably take until about October to complete.

He said only after the asbestos has been removed can the building be safely demolished.

Thursday’s meeting will run from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and will be held at the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club, 2901 N. Grand Ave., in St. Louis.

The club is across the street from the EPA Superfund site.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter@KWMUScience