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A year later, Threatt still scoffed about reports of asbestos contamination. "It's a technical item," he told The Pitch in May 2007. "We're talking about charred little pieces of hard asbestos siding or floor tiles that should have been — we find out after the fact — remediated, taken off before and, for various reasons, wasn't."
Despite Threatt's claims, the contamination proved real and extensive. Kingston Environmental Services found asbestos in 11 of 12 standing structures and on nearly all of the recently cleared lots. Kingston also found asbestos buried as deep as 6 inches underground and suggested that there could be hidden contamination on older lots overgrown with vegetation.
Threatt expects the cleanup to cost $250,000. The state estimates a $300,000 price tag.
Threatt also told The Pitch in May that the CDC-KC had the financial resources to deal with the problem and that the cleanup would start soon. In fact, it would be another six months before the city and the state signed off on Kingston's cleanup proposal. According to city documents, the effort was slated to begin November 5 and wrap up by the end of that month.
To date, no dirt has moved on the site.
In October, Threatt acknowledged that the CDC-KC had made a mistake and said his organization had paid the price. "Were there private financiers and banks concerned by all the negative publicity? Yes. Have we lost some loan commitments, lost some investment commitments? Yes. It is one of the major reasons why the time frame has elongated," he says.
Even if the cleanup moves forward, the CDC-KC faces stiff state penalties for failing to properly dispose of the asbestos. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources issued citations in early 2007; in September, the still-unresolved issue moved up the legal chain to the state Attorney General's Office.
Steve Feeler, chief of the DNR's enforcement section, says there were two reasons for the escalation. First, the complexity of the situation raised some legal issues best left to the state's top attorneys. The second reason: "I was ignored by counsel for CDC-KC for about four months," Feeler tells The Pitch in an e-mail.
In mid-December, the state signed off on a settlement that requires the CDC-KC to pay a $50,000 fine and invest more than $400,000 in community environmental projects and eco-friendly design elements at the Citadel Plaza.
An investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is ongoing.
Through all of the discussion of asbestos contamination, Benni Ewing says she has never received a letter from the CDC-KC regarding the health issues or how it was handling the cleanup. She wonders if that empty white house behind her property is still standing because it's full of asbestos. Whenever a pile of demolition debris shows up on her block, she can't help but wonder: Is that rubble contaminated?
Keeling says that over the years, she has tried many times to speak with Threatt and the CDC-KC staff, mostly to no avail. Tancredi says the Blue Hills Neighborhood Association invited the CDC-KC, along with other organizations, to a meeting this past summer, but no one from the CDC-KC showed up.
Threatt tells The Pitch that the CDC-KC was not informed of that meeting. In July, though, he did receive a strongly worded letter signed by the Southtown Council, Research Medical Center and the Blue Hills Neighborhood Association. That letter outlined the groups' previous support for the project and emphasized that they were "extremely concerned" about the lack of progress.