State and county inspectors said yesterday that Fairfax County's Tysons Corner Center had complied with all safety regulations in removing asbestos materials from the shopping mall's service tunnel.
"The removal is being done properly and even goes beyond what some of the requirements are," said Steven D. Church, a Fairfax County Health Department inspector, after examining the project for the first time.
Removal of asbestos from the underground service tunnel at the 144-store shopping mall has been going on for two weeks, but was shielded from public view by security guards. The project came to light Wednesday when a memo from mall management to store owners was obtained by The Washington Post.
Church said there was no indication that the potentially hazardous substance had escaped into the mall's ventilation system and that therefore it posed no threat to shoppers or employes.
John M. Yetman, an air pollution specialist from the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board, said the firms hired by the mall had properly sealed off the affected areas and were carefully removing the exposed materials. The removal is scheduled to be finished by early next week.
However, neither the state nor the county official left the service tunnel to examine other areas in the mall, including the storage areas of some of the shopping center's stores. In the memo distributed to the mall's store managers, Tysons Center officials said asbestos also was discovered on some of their properties, but that its removal would be delayed until after the Christmas shopping season.
Church said mall officials had not told him about the second phase of the project, which is to begin sometime in January. He said that although an official determination was impossible without an inspection, he did not believe the material posed safety risks to shoppers or mall employes.
There are no federal, state or local regulations that require property owners to remove asbestos from their buildings, according to Thomas L. Rother, director of voluntary compliance for the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry. No one, including mall officials, would say why the asbestos was being removed.
Once a decision is made to clear out the potentially cancer-causing substance, the work must be monitored by that department, as well as by the air pollution board and the county health department.
A Pittsburgh firm conducting the Tysons Corner Center removal first made the air pollution board aware of it about two weeks ago, according to Yetman, who said he mailed a copy of the notice to county health officials.
County officials said they did not receive the notice until sometime this week.
Yesterday's inspections were done because a deliveryman using the service tunnel registered complaints about being sent unprotected into a potentially dangerous area. Charles R. Cope, general manager of the shopping center, acknowledged Wednesday that he directed both the workers removing the asbestos and the mall's security guards not to discuss the nature of the project.
The health inspectors agreed with Cope's view that there was "no reason for concern" about the safety of those using the service tunnel because they were not directly exposed to the asbestos.
Yetman said he could "understand the concern" of the deliverymen and others using the service tunnel. "They see these people all dressed up in protective garb and they wonder what's going on," he said. However, he said there was no requirement that they be told.