In the latter part of June, Ventura, California townhome/apartment owner Tony Biedul, and painting contractor Bill Bigler, were cited for their May removal of textured “popcorn” ceilings from some of the units in the Ventura Village Green apartments. Ceilings which, one expert says, Biedul must have known contained asbestos.
The problem started with leaking pipes in the 150-unit complex, which damaged ceilings and walls in at least 36 of the townhome units. So Biedul hired painting contractor Bigler to repair the damage and – even though Biedul denied it at the time – allowed tenants to remain in their apartments while the asbestos-containing textured ceilings were scraped off and replaced.
In fact, no one would have known about the asbestos content, had not the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District tested some of the material removed from the ceilings and discovered that samples contained significant levels of asbestos, at least according to the testing lab.
Asbestos, used during most of the last century in a wide range of building products, including floor tiles, tile glues, acoustical ceiling tiles, and textured ceiling and wall plasters, or spray-on coatings, was once viewed as a “miracle” compound, both for its superb insulative qualities and its resistance to chemical degradation.
It wasn’t until about the middle of the century, or more precisely the 1970s, that public health officials, doctors and even some manufacturers began to recognize asbestos’s significant, and growing, role in a type of cancer called mesothelioma.
Occurring in the mesothelial tissues that surround and protect the lungs, heart and digestive organs, though most often in the lungs (as malignant pleural mesothelioma, the cancer has always been relatively rare, and often remains undiagnosed as a result.
What distinguishes malignant mesothelioma from other cancers is its unique and very evident relationship with asbestos, the fact that it lies dormant for so long before producing definitive symptoms, and the fact that – once active – it moves so quickly to compromise large amounts of vital tissue, and usually results in death within a year of diagnosis.
There is currently no known cure for mesothelioma, which makes contracting it the same as a death sentence. For the residents of Ventura Village Green who remained in their apartments while ceilings were removed, the possibility that they will die of mesothelioma in twenty to fifty years looms large.
Both Biedul and Bigler, who owns Quality Custom Painting, have since been issued multiple citations for violations of the Clean Air Act. Each violation could cost them $10,000, according to Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer Keith Duval.
Duval was quick to point out, however, that the levying of fines depends largely on whether Biedul and Bigler knew the ceilings contained asbestos, and went ahead despite the danger, or did not know, reducing violations from ‘willful’ to unintentional.
According to Duval, most contractors know that popcorn ceilings installed before 1976 – the end of asbestos’s heyday – contain the hazardous mineral. Biedul, for his part, has said he didn’t think there was any asbestos in the complex, which was built in 1964. And Bigler, who does not have a license for asbestos remediation, said that Biedul assured him the units did not contain asbestos.
Ventura Village Green owner Biedul has since hired a licensed asbestos remediation contractor to fix the problems, which are expected to take about a week. Affected residents have been given money by Biedul for separate lodgings until repairs are complete, and the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District presumably continues to investigate the incident to determine if Biedul (and Bigler) were intentionally negligent or merely uninformed.
Sources: VCStar.com, DailyMe.com