Residents of a West Hollywood apartment complex are not being allowed back into the complex after confirmed reports of an asbestos outbreak, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Los Angeles Fire Department hazmat and health officials cleared out the 12 unit apartment late Wednesday night after a "notice to comply" was not completed by building management. An AQMD inspector had originally inspected the complex on June 13 after an anonymous tip.
More than 15 residents had to be formally decontaminated by firefighters. Residents had to leave everything behind -- even their cars.
The threatening asbestos debris was left in a common area hallway on the ground floor by a contracting crew that was renovating a recently vacated unit. Residents had to pass the pile of debris to go in and out of the complex's side door, residents said.
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"It was improper removal so basically the whole building was exposed to airborne dust from asbestos," one resident said.
Residents also said that every time a unit was vacated, a contracting crew would come in to renovate the unit.
One of the things done during the renovation was removal of the popcorn ceiling, which one witness believes is the potential source of the asbestos.
Diane Baker, whose friend has lived in the apartment complex for years, says she has been having severe problems with her asthma.
"She's coughing uncontrollably. She can't get it under control," Baker said. "She's been to the ER several times in the last several months."
"We live in an area that has a lot of buildings that were built before 1970, I think," said one woman who lives in the building. "A lot of them have also the popcorn ceilings."
Asbestos is a heat-resistant material that was widely used in building construction prior to the 1980s.
The material is a known carcinogen and when people are exposed to asbestos for an extended period of time, it can cause lung cancer or mesothelioma.
It appears the exposure was contained to the building but that does not mean that other building owners and managers still aren't worried about asbestos.
"Every six months we inspect," said Julie Brown, manager of a nearby apartment complex. "When we have vacancies we do periodic inspections. We do scrapings and testing. Nothing has shown up in either of these buildings."
In the meantime, the American Red Cross has given displaced residents hotel vouchers. It is unclear when residents will be allowed to return home.
Attempts to reach the owner of the apartment complex were unsuccessful.
City News Service contributed to this report.