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The white, one-story brick complex at 301 Davidson Street is one of the last original and best preserved buildings in downtown Davidson. Built in 1890, it housed the Linden Cotton Mill for nearly 40 years starting in 1890. The Carolina Asbestos Company took over the site sometime in the 1930s and manufactured asbestos fabric, tiles and shingles there until it closed in the late 1960s.
The complex’s prime downtown location has attracted interest and plans for redevelopment for at least five years. But there’s a sticking point: the 25-foot mound of asbestos-containing material left behind after the factory closed.
Dubbed “Asbestos Hill” and “Mystery Hill,” the mound of hazardous material was left uncovered until 1984 when the owner covered it with an engineered soil cap. The site was largely forgotten for the next 30 years. That changed in 2016 when a groundhog dug into the mound and released asbestos.
Asbestos was used widely in industry from the early 1900’s to the 1970’s. The chemical is no longer included in construction and the EPA banned most uses in 1989. Diseases related to breathing asbestos fibers include a chronic lung condition known as asbestosis or diffuse pulmonary fibrosis and mesothelioma, a rare and very aggressive form of lung cancer.
Some of Davidson’s Black residents lost family members or friends to what they believed were asbestos-related illnesses. They complained about health-related issues for decades but felt their concerns were ignored and/or dismissed by state and local leaders, creating a deep sense of distrust.
After Asbestos Hill was disturbed five years ago, several regulatory agencies got involved in the remediation process and removed more than 6,000 tons of asbestos-contaminated waste. Still, the NC Superfund Section Chief said it wasn’t possible to remove all of the material. That would require destroying all the homes in the area.
The state designated the complex as a Brownfield site, a property of which expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. The surrounding area was labeled an “asbestos watch” site.
The asbestos cleanups sparked interest from developers who saw great potential for the prime location, even though it can’t be used for residential use, schools, childcare or adult care centers.
Ultimately, a developer reached an agreement with the state to foot the bill for remediation and redevelop the property into a multimillion dollar project featuring a brewery, restaurants and shops, tentatively called Linden Mill.
It’s hard to know how much damage has already been done and residents worry that disturbing the asbestos in the remodeling process can release fibers into the air and worsen the risk of potential health issues. They also know that the asbestos problem isn’t limited to Asbestos Hill. People often used tiles and shingles in their homes and asbestos fill in yards or driveways.
In January 2020, state officials held a meeting at the Ada Jenkins Center to address concerns about long term asbestos exposure in their homes. “As long as you don’t dig on your property you’re fine,” a state official told the group.
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