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EPA to Cleanup Debris After Fire Destroys Houlton Building

Release Date: 05/13/2003
Contact Information: Alice Kaufman, EPA Community Involvement Office, 617-918-1064

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is beginning work today to remove debris containing asbestos that was left after a fire last fall destroyed a 4 -story wooden structure in downtown Houlton, Maine. The November 2002 fire in the historic downtown district at One Market Square totally destroyed the business and apartment complex building.

The town of Houlton has been working with the building's owner and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to develop a plan to have the debris removed from the property as quickly and efficiently as possible. The estimated cost of cleanup, however, exceeds the ability of the owner, the town and the state to pay. EPA estimates the cleanup cost to be about $150,000.

Senator Olympia Snowe and the Maine DEP asked EPA to help assess and clean up the site. The Meduxnekeag River runs through Houlton not far from the fire site. This popular recreational river is used for kayaking, canoeing and fishing. The river, which is also used for farmland irrigation, feeds into the St. John River.

Throughout the cleanup, the asbestos material will be kept wet to reduce the potential for asbestos fibers to be released into the air. EPA will continuously monitor air quality at the site perimeter and all workers at the site will be required to wear personal protective equipment to ensure safety.

EPA estimates that it will take about two weeks to complete the cleanup.

"I am very pleased that EPA Region I has taken such a pro-active and responsive stance toward the cleanup of asbestos and other hazardous materials at the Houlton fire site," said U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine). "By stewarding this cleanup effort, the EPA will not only help prevent further contamination by hazardous materials, but also help the town advance efforts to recover from this devastating downtown fire."

"This site is right downtown in an area often filled with people. It was important for us to move quickly after DEP asked for our help," said Robert W. Varney, EPA New England regional administrator. "We are working closely with Houlton officials and the state to clean the area and protect passersby."

"It is encouraging to have the EPA and the Maine DEP working together to help the town get this site cleaned up quickly," said Margaret Daigle, Houlton town manager. "We certainly appreciate the patience and cooperation of the citizens of the town for any inconveniences that may occur during the two-week cleanup period." Daigle added that the town of Houlton will help with the cleanup.