A general contractor and the owner of an apartment complex in Ventura, California, each face serious fines for allegedly violating laws dealing with the handling and removal of asbestos. Residents at the Ventura Village Green apartments asked the building’s owner, Tony Biedul, and the contractor, Bill Bigler, if the popcorn ceilings in the units contained asbestos. Both men denied that the material was laced with asbestos and residents continued to stay in their units while Mr. Bigler’s work crews removed the ceilings.
However, a subsequent inspection by the county’s air quality control office found that the ceiling material contained high levels of the dangerous substance. County officials issued notices of violation to both Mr. Biedul and Mr. Bigler. Some of the violations stemmed from their failure to exercise proper precautions to protect the workers who were handling the toxic materials, while others related to the failure to notify residents about the health hazard in their ceilings.
The apartment building was constructed in 1964, at a time when asbestos was still in heavy use in the construction industry. Mr. Biedul reportedly told Mr. Bigler to start working on the ceilings in selected units. A few apartments required replacing small portions of the ceilings, while another needed a complete scraping. Mr. Biedul said that he was not aware of any asbestos contamination in the older building, but admits that he should have had an asbestos abatement expert examine the units before he signed off on the projects.
Ventura County Deputy Air Pollution Control officer Keith Duval said that the violations could carry fines up to $10,000. The county will investigate the violations to determine if they occurred as the result of a simple oversight, or if the two men knew about the asbestos and tried to cover up the problem. Mr. Duval also said that most contractors understand that popcorn ceilings installed during the time these apartments were constructed often contain asbestos.
Mr. Biedul hired Mr. Bigler’s firm, Quality Custom Painting, to repair damaged ceilings and walls in thirty-six town homes affected by leaking pipes. Mr. Bigler reportedly expressed his concern about the project and told the buildings’ owner that he did not have the proper certification or training to handle asbestos-containing material. According to Mr. Bigler, Mr. Biedul told him that asbestos would not be an issue for the units that required work.
When news about the potential asbestos contamination became public, many residents also voiced their worries. One resident, who asked reporters that she remain anonymous, said that she returned home after work crews scraped her entire ceiling to find dust and other remnants covering the apartment. Another said that she fell ill a few days after workers scraped her ceiling. She also said that she was concerned for her son, who has asthma, and reported the worker’s activity to the country air control office.
Mr. Biedul said that he has since hired a certified asbestos abatement firm to handle the remaining units. Residents have been relocated to a nearby motel and provided with rent money to stay their or find other accommodations during the project.
Source: Ventura County Star