Ask the Architect

Asbestos exposure on the LIRR?


Q. I’ve been reading your opinions on asbestos with respect to public safety, and you seem to be knowledgeable about asbestos in air ducts. LIRR trains have air ducts insulated with fast-powdering asbestos, which drops on commuters’ heads with each train door opening and closing and each wheel bump. We frequently hear, “Let’s save the children.” But children ride LIRR trains to schools and colleges, and they breathe in very fine, powdered, cancer-causing asbestos each time the train’s wheels hit flat spots, causing sledgehammer-like strong vibrations. Is there any way for the LIRR to eliminate this deadly public cancer-causing health hazard?

A. I missed my editor’s deadline trying to find information and possible answers to your alarming question. I was certified as an asbestos investigator in the late 1980s, and in the many years I’ve been doing building investigations, for everything from temperature and water penetration to structural movement and toxic issues, I’ve seen the results of various testing procedures that reveal conditions that aren’t seen by the naked eye but are still there.

I remember the discussions with officials about how to mitigate the asbestos from car brakes that was found in high amounts in the air systems of the tunnels leading into Manhattan. The result was the cleaning of the system and reformulation of brake pad manufacturing. I also remember the extreme, hysteria-causing stories of asbestos and mold in our schools and the amount of money laid out in tax increases to fix the problem. So my first thought was to question the published data and piles of investigative reports about asbestos on the Long Island Rail Road, but I didn’t find piles of reports.

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