I Loved Andy’s Story About the EPA

Andy loved to tell stories and I loved to listen to them.  He always thought that his stories were boring and kept apologizing to me as he told them, but I thought they were just fascinating.  I’m going to miss sharing that time with him and learning about his life and all the things that he did.

I remember a really funny story – well funny to me since it is such a repudiation of our government.  You see, if you didn’t know Andy had a PhD in Chemistry.  It gave him and me something to share, a love of chemistry.  I had taken advanced Chem in high school and at the Naval Academy so I could at least understand a lot of what Andy was talking about when he discussed his work.  His stories of chemistry in the work place were enthralling and often made me wonder what my life would have been like if I had done as my professors wanted me to and followed through my somewhat talented studies by getting a degree in chemistry… but I digress.

When Andy came to Athens he worked at the EPA.  One of his first tasks was to build a lab for testing the levels of asbestos in samples that were sent to the EPA.  You see at that time asbestos was one of the most hated of all chemicals and there were superfunds being set up for remediation and removal of all asbestos form all government facilities.  It was much like the war on transfat that we are experiencing today… a bunch of government blowhards talking about how dangerous something is and trying to increase their power and control over us all by instituting a lot of ridiculous rules and regulations for the ‘common good.’  Not saying that asbestos isn’t bad for you or that something shouldn’t have been done… as you will see later in the story, it could have been done much better.

So Andy is given the job of building a lab for testing… and in typical guberment fashion, his budget is basically $ZERO.  When Andy asks where he can put the lab (keep in mind he’s in a big government building) they show him to a room not much bigger than a broom closet.  But that isn’t the best part…  The room is full of asbestos insulated heating pipes.  Can you believe it!!!! Not only that but when Andy asks about the remediation of the asbestos in the room so that he can get accurate results he is told that there is no time and no budget for asbestos removal.  When Andy asks how he is supposed to test accurately for asbestos in a room full of the stuff he is told “Think of something.”

Now we are coming to the best part of the story, my favorite part.  Andy was a super-smart guy and he knew that he had to get this job done that he had to get accurate results, and most of all that he budget was almost non-existent.  So Andy put his brain to work.  He knew he couldn’t rip out the asbestos because it would cost too much – in those days and still today remediation was terribly expensive.  And he knew that if he were to get accurate results, he would have make sure that the asbestos in the room was totally isolated from the testing samples and it could not get anywhere near the instruments that he was using to measure contamination in test samples.  So Andy thought of an ingenious way of solving the problem… He either made or found a spray on plastic coating that cost just a few dollars to apply.  When he tested the background asbestos levels in the lab after they applied the coating to the pipes, the levels weer almost too small to measure – alternating between 0 and 2 parts per billion or trillion (I forget which, wish I could ask Andy, I’d love to hear the story again). 

So here we had a lab that used to have asbestos insulated pipes running through it, that was now so low in asbestos contamination that it could do the testing of all samples submitted to the EPA to determine if the samples were contaminated.  And that lab was rendered practically ‘asbestos-less’ by a simple, cheap, and effective sray on plastic coating that took a few hours to apply and dry while costing only a few dollars…

The implications of this are something that made Andy and I laugh out loud.  Billions and billions, if not TRILLIONS of dollars spent on manpower and toxic waste disposal of asbestos when a few dollars and some spray on plastic would have worked just as well.  Oh well that’s the guberment for ya!

Andy was a great story teller, I’ll miss him.

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