The chunks of torched debris that floated out of the flames at the vacant Kmart last week and fell like giant black snowflakes on East Portland may not contain that much asbestos after all.
Last Thursday, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality put out a press release saying, “Debris at Luuwit View Park has already been tested and identified as containing asbestos.”
That round of testing was done by Portland Parks & Recreation, DEQ spokesman Harry Esteve says. Parks tested nine samples, and one of them came back with a high level of asbestos. Newer analyses of both air and debris done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are showing much lower levels of the carcinogen.
“Preliminary results are showing little to no asbestos,” Esteve says. DEQ expects to have final results as soon as today, he adds.
Prologis, the company that plans to tear down the Kmart and build a shipping warehouse, says it tested the building for asbestos last year and removed the material that it found.
“We conducted an asbestos assessment last March, which disclosed existence of asbestos,” Prologis spokeswoman Mattie Sorrentino said in an email Friday. “We promptly undertook and completed asbestos abatement at the building and received confirmation in September 2022.”
In a public meeting yesterday, DEQ and other agencies gave East Portland residents the green light to clean up the blackened chunks themselves by first wetting them and then double bagging them in garbage bags. DEQ advises people to wear gloves and a mask.
Breathing asbestos fibers has been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer, among other ailments.
“We are advising that you can clean it yourself,” Esteve says.
The empty Kmart is owned by RFC Joint Venture, a limited liability company controlled by Zygmunt Wilf, a New Jersey real estate developer who also owns the Minnesota Vikings football team. Wilf’s company has leased the land to Prologis to build the freight warehouse. Argay Terrace residents have been fighting the plan, saying that the warehouse would bring more diesel-spewing trucks into a neighborhood that’s already plagued by them.
The vast, 13-acre site has been decaying since 2018, when the Kmart closed. In 2021, it was the site of a brawl between anti-fascists and far-right Proud Boys, fought with paintball guns and baseball bats. (One of the participants in that fight, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, was handed a 95-month sentence last week.)
Regulators have approved a demolition permit for the building, but Prologis is waiting for its building permit to be approved before pulling it down, Sorrentino, the Prologis spokeswoman, said in an email.