GREENE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) – Greene County supervisors repeated their desire for due diligence in a heated meeting Monday, March 6 as demolition on the Old Factory building continues.

The discussion at the Board of Supervisors meeting drew raised voices, crosstalk and accusations exchanged between most of the people in attendance. The engineering firm contracted by the county to oversee demolition disputed a complaint that children are at risk to hazardous emissions from the site.

The concern was brought by Richard Ball, a retired environmental scientist with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Ball has been working with the Town of Leakesville over the past few months to coordinate state grants and economic development opportunities.

According to his account, he went to the site Thursday to talk to the demolition crew about his concerns.

“We’ve had wind out of the south blowing across that site, blowing debris onto those school kids,” said Ball. “Just a dust storm of debris dust flying off that site of actual fiberglass you could see flying across there.”

While asbestos removal is ongoing, Ball raised concerns about the possibility of lead paint from the decades-old building being in the dust from the site. Leakesville Jr. High School sits across from the factory.

Board attorney Paul Walley said the county contracted with Pickering Firm to oversee every step of the demolition process.

“That is part of their responsibility to the county to ensure that demolition is done in a responsible way that complies with all of the state and federal regulations,” Walley said. “This is not their first rodeo either. That’s why we hired them. They’re checking for everything,” added Board President Wayne Barrow.

Marty Cooke, a project manager for Pickering Firm, told the room that samples are taken every day and sent to an independent lab to make sure no hazardous emissions from the asbestos mitigation are released into the air. No testing is required for any lead levels since the work at the factory site does not release lead paint particles into the air, he said. Ball disagreed.

“The demolition needs to be stopped is my recommendation until you can control the emissions coming off of that site,” Ball said. “We gotta protect those kids. If you don’t care about the kids, keep doing it.”

Repeated characterizations of the supervisors’ concern for the Jr. High students visibly angered the board during an exchange that would last over 30 minutes.

“You knew this factory was going to be torn down months ago. You have yet to come here to help us prior to today and now you’re here crucifying the board and this gentleman for doing it,” said District 1 Supervisor Dillon McInnis. “Don’t you dare tell me I don’t care about the kids,” he said, raising his voice before briefly leaving the meeting room.

Ball also told the board he was struck by a contractor from the site while at a gas station in town over the weekend. Cooke declined to identify the man from a picture Ball took of the job site. Sheriff Stanley McLeod said his department took the report from Ball and would take any warranted action.

Supervisor Gary Fairley told Ball it would be irresponsible for the county to stop the demolition where it is and leave half the factory standing, surrounded by a pile of rubbish, if that is what he was asking for. Supervisors said school administrators and representatives from the town were all included in meetings with the engineering firm before demolition began.

Ball said he intends to ask the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate if the contractor is properly mitigating all risks.

The fate of the old Basila garment factory building, opened in 1946, has long fostered debate in the county. It has sat empty on Main Street since the last tenant was evicted in 2009. Proposals over the years have included turning it into a shopping center, training facility for homeless veterans, and juvenile detention facility before falling into disrepair.

The estimated $600,000 it will take to demolish is being covered by state and federal funding. WKRG reported on the factory’s full history in December.