Released Sept. 25, 1998

For more information, please contact: Diane Greenberg 516-344-2347, or Mona S. Rowe 516-344-5056




Upton, NY - Leon Petrakis, a chemist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, will give a lecture titled "Rendering Asbestos Harmless," on Wednesday, October 21, at 4 p.m. in Brookhaven Lab's Berkner Hall. Dr. Petrakis and his Brookhaven Lab team collaborated with W.R. Grace & Co. to develop a product that makes asbestos environmentally benign without diminishing its fireproofing capability. The lecture is open to the public free of charge.

In his talk, Dr. Petrakis will discuss the history of asbestos, as well as the scientific developments that led to the new product, and its technological and economic implications.

Asbestos has been used extensively since ancient times because of its unique thermal insulation and other properties. During World War II, it was used to insulate naval vessels and was later used as fire protection in high-rise structures, schools and other buildings.

In the early 1900s, asbestos was implicated in increasing the risk of certain lung diseases among asbestos workers, including lung cancer. In 1986, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required that asbestos be removed from schools, at a cost of $3 billion. It has been estimated that 750,000 public and commercial buildings in the U.S. contain asbestos, and the abatement effort would cost $100 billion. Using the new W.R. Grace/Brookhaven method of asbestos abatement could cut that cost by an estimated 50 to 60 percent.

The new technique uses a foam that is applied directly onto asbestos-containing fireproofing. The foam chemically digests asbestos fibers, dissolving them into harmless materials. In full-scale tests performed with the new product, Grace and Brookhaven have confirmed that the product's use would reduce asbestos to less than one percent of the treated fireproofing's weight, which is the EPA's definition of non-asbestos materials. The new method was first used commercially by LVI Environmental, Inc., of New York City in August of this year under a license from W.R. Grace & Co.

Leon Petrakis earned a B.S. in chemistry from Northeastern University in 1958, and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1961. After a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at the National Research Council of Canada, Dr. Petrakis became an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Maryland. He then joined DuPont Company as a research chemist in 1963, and two years later, went to Gulf Research & Development Company, where he held several line and staff positions, culminating in fellow, the highest technical position.

During his years in industry, he was adjunct professor University of Pittsburgh; visiting professor at both the University of Paris, France; and the University of Athens, Greece. In 1989, he joined Brookhaven as the chair of the Department of Applied Science, and, in 1994, he assumed his current position of senior scientist.

Dr. Petrakis is the author or editor of six technical books and has published over 130 peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has also published a historical novel in Greek, his native language, about growing up in Nazi-occupied Europe. He served as director of two NATO Advanced Study Institutes, and he was on the editorial board of the American Chemical Society's Advances in Chemistry Series. He is a member of several professional organizations, including the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

For more information about the lecture, call Brookhaven's Public Affairs Office at (516)344-2345. The Laboratory is located on William Floyd Parkway (County Road 46), one-and-a-half miles north of Exit 68 on the Long Island Expressway.