Improper Seal During Renovation May Have Exposed Politicians and Public to Asbestos

The possibility that city leaders and the general public were exposed to asbestos at the Honolulu Hale has caused concern among politicians and their constituents. A door may not have been properly sealed during work in the City Council chamber on the third floor of the building, enabling airborne asbestos to escape the restricted area.

The eighty-year-old Honolulu Hale, previously known as the Honolulu Municipal Building, is the official seat of the government of city and county, and it is the site of the chambers of the Mayor of Honolulu, Kirk Caldwell. According to some councilmembers, such as Stanley Chang, the renovation project should never have been started. Now that the problem of public safety has arisen, Chang believes the project needs to be suspended. “We absolutely should not be finishing the renovation, leaving the public health and safety in danger,” Chang said.

Another councilmember, Ann Kobayashi, tried to address the problem of asbestos and mold in the Honolulu Hale more than a decade ago, when she included $14 million in the budget specifically to eradicate contaminants in the building. “The administration used the money to clean up some other areas,” she explained. “They didn’t clean up the city council areas.”

Kobayashi intends to get an estimate to have the work finished, and while it may not be easy to find funds for renovation, the fact that the public regularly visits the historic building helps justify such an expense. “When it comes to health and safety, we’re going to have to do it, because it’s not just our health and safety,” Kobayashi said. “It’s all the members of the public.”

Until its ban in the 1970s, asbestos was used in a variety of industries, including manufacturing and construction. The walls and tiles of many old buildings still contain asbestos, so it’s important that trained professionals are hired to do any job that requires handling of the hazardous material. Otherwise, asbestos fibers can be inhaled, which can lead to numerous respiratory health problems – some of which are fatal, such as mesothelioma.

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