The Environmental Protection Agency is doing yard work in North Little Rock- simulating daily activities to find out if people in the Dixie neighborhood are being exposed to asbestos.
The EPA says they're just sampling, but with workers walking around in hazmat suits, people like Columbus Jones are worried. He says he first noticed the workers in front of his home in February.
"I opened the door to go out, put my son on the bus... there's guys in hazmat suits. They have face masks on- rubber suits and rubber boots," Jones said.
When the EPA team returned and re-suited this week, Jones got worried.
"Do I need a suit? to go outside and cut my grass? to go play with my son? do we need to be outside suited up, too?" Jones said.
EPA Spokesperson Althea Foster says the contamination came from the W.R. Grace Zonolite vermiculite processing facility in the neighborhood.
Vermiculite is a mineral that expands when heated, and can be manufactured to withstand temperatures up to 1,150 degrees Celsius. It's commonly used as a fireproofing material, high-temperature insulation, and car brake pads.
But in the late 1990's, the EPA discovered that the source of North Little Rock's vermiculite, a mine in Libby, Montana, was contaminated with asbestos.
According to the EPA, W. R. Grace Zonolite received 85-thousand tons of asbestos-tainted vermiculite in North Little Rock from 1953 to 1989.
The agency sampled areas around the plant a decade ago, Foster says, and removed highly-contaminated soil on the site that was used as fill dirt.
But new research recently revealed that asbestos was more dangerous than anyone realized, and suddenly the "acceptable" levels found in North Little Rock were deemed "actionable."
"It means we need to take action and remove the soil and get rid of it," Foster said. "It means it could be, doesn't have to be, but could be, a threat."
Foster says all samples deemed actionable by the EPA are south of the plant, and only trace amounts were found in the Dixie community north of the plant. The agency is working with the abandoned plant's owner, and so far he's agreed to pay for the cleanup. But it could be several months, or a even a couple of years, before it's all done.