May 04, 2001 11:00 pm

Set aside some dollars

for future health needs

No doubt about it, Valley Fellowships violation of air quality rules was serious. The church, which purchased the old National Guard armory in northwest La Grande more than a year ago, should have taken greater care in the removal of asbestos tiles.

But, given the church leaders openness about the violation and their willingness to cooperate, we wonder if the Oregon Department of Environmental Qualitys $20,000 fine is too steep. How will that money be used to tackle any heath problems that might occur down the road?

After the armory building was purchased, church officials directed 19 volunteers, including high school students, to remove the floor tiles, according to the DEQ. The volunteers apparently pulled up the tile and left the material in a pile in the churchs parking lot for about five days.

Asbestos danger is a long-term concern since it can have a latency period of 20 to 25 years if particles become lodged in the lining of the lungs. Health problems might not be noticed among any of the workers for several years. Asbestos exposure can result in lung cancer, asbestosis and other respiratory problems.

Before buying the building, church leaders were warned that asbestos was used in its construction, according to Bill Miller, one of Valley Fellowships pastors. When it came time to remove the tile, the asbestos warning had been forgotten. Co-pastor Steve Kirkeby called the asbestos removal project a stupid thing that just happened.

No one knows for sure whether any of the people involved in the tile project will develop lung ailments. Meanwhile, the $20,000 fine will hit the small church fairly hard. It might be more practical to reduce the fine and have the church set aside some of these dollars.

The funds could multiply over the years and be used to help pay for any asbestos-related medical expenses that occur among those who supposedly were contaminated by the broken tiles.

Day for celebration

Today, Cinco de Mayo the fifth of May celebrates the defeat of the French army by the Mexicans at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It is primarily a regional holiday celebrated in the capital city Puebla and the Mexican state of Puebla.

Cinco de Mayo also is a popular holiday along the U.S.-Mexico border and in parts of the United States that have a large population of people with a Mexican heritage.

The fifth of May is a time for Americans to recognize some of the contributions that Mexican people have made among us. Theyve shared their culture, food, music, beverages and customs, and made everyone richer for it.