WILTON — Emergency responders and construction workers may have been exposed to dangerous levels of harmful asbestos at the site of a building demolition, where firefighters and police responded to a fire Monday afternoon in Wilton, according to an official with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The information came after at least 11 firefighters responded to a call at about 2 p.m., when the fire started during demolition work at the complex of vacant manufacturing buildings on Depot Street, some built more than a century ago.

Test results that came back Tuesday showed dangerously high levels of airborne asbestos at the site, according to Bill Coffin, director for OSHA operations in Maine.

“High enough that no one should be working there,” he said, describing the level of the potentially harmful building material found present at the site.

The construction company working at the site, Downeast Construction, was notified and has since voluntarily ceased working there until the asbestos is removed, Coffin said Thursday.

There were fewer than 10 employees working at the construction site, Coffin said.

Coffin said his office also contacted town and state fire officials to make them aware that emergency responders may have been exposed to asbestos when they responded to the fire.

He did not know the exact time Tuesday they were contacted.

“They also could have been exposed to asbestos,” Coffin said, referring to emergency responders.

Wilton fire Chief Sonny Dunham said 11 firefighters responded to the call and the fire was extinguished quickly. He said at least one Wilton police officer also was on the scene. Some of the firefighters entered the building, Dunham said.

Town Manager Rhonda Irish said the town is waiting for more information about the possible asbestos exposure before it takes any action.

“We need to get the official written information to find out exactly what it is,” Irish said Thursday.

She said an OSHA representative contacted her about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, but the town did not get a written report from the federal regulatory agency.

“We’re just trying to gather information,” Irish said.

Coffin said his office conducted a safety and industrial hygiene inspection “a while ago,” and the test results that came back Tuesday are from that inspection.

“We went back (Wednesday) and basically informed the construction company that none of the people should go into that building,” Coffin said.

The company voluntarily ceased working at the site after the visit, according to Coffin, and there is no timetable for when the asbestos will be removed.

“(The company) have said they will not go back in until it’s corrected,” Coffin said.

Wilton Recycling LLC owns the site and has been working to demolish the vacant manufacturing complex, according to manager Adam Mack.

Mack said that OSHA hasn’t notified him yet of the high asbestos levels.

Mack said he works in Portland and is unaware of any steps taken by demolition company Downeast Construction Co., which also owns the salvage rights for the project.

A message left on an answering machine for the construction company and an email requesting comment about the incident were not returned Thursday.

Mack said the demolition project has all of the necessary permits and approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Mack said tests were done for environmental issues before the project began. “We took the phase one environmental (assessment) and worked with the DEP and took all of the precautions,” Mack said.

John Bucci, an asbestos and lead inspector for Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said he can’t comment on the findings reported by Coffin.

“I’ve had no correspondence from OSHA, the owner called with some questions,” Bucci said in a phone interview Thursday.

Bucci worked with the owner during the process that lead up to the demolition project, he said. Bucci said Thursday afternoon he was out of his office and unable to comment on details of the approval process for the project.

The companies handling the project deal directly with OSHA, and then they have to contact the DEP if there are issues, according to Bucci.

“It seems like they’re having some issues out there, and I’m waiting myself for some paperwork,” Bucci said.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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