By SCOTT PESZNECKER
Cleanup crews have started removing unsafe levels of asbestos from a building at the Calaveras County Government Center where employees were forced to evacuate three weeks ago.
Test results from a Fair Oaks laboratory show that half the 20 samples taken from the contaminated building contained levels of asbestos exceeding state safety requirements.
California Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws call for construction materials to contain no more than .1 percent asbestos. However, nine samples from the government center contained up to 5 percent asbestos, and two more had between 5 and 10 percent.
Certified Asbestos Consultant Anthony De Arcos, who is overseeing the cleanup efforts in Calaveras County, said a single inhaled asbestos fiber can cause cancer in a human.
"But that doesn't mean everyone who breathes in a fiber will get an asbestos disease," he said.
Most important, De Arcos said, is that county officials evacuated the building as soon as the threat was realized.
"It is still a problem," he said, "But if they would have waited one or two weeks and had let people stay in the building, it would have been a bigger problem than it is."
The contaminated building which houses the county's agriculture, technology services and environmental health departments is being remodeled to also hold the building and planning departments.
But early this month, dust particles started flying and construction ended temporarily. Evacuated employees were moved to quarters in the county library, next door to the government center on Mountain Ranch Road in San Andreas.
Tests sent to De Arcos' firm, National Analytical Laboratories, Inc., showed that the dust and other building materials did contain asbestos.
Now, National Analytical Laboratories is working with another firm to remove contaminated debris from the remodel area. Every flat service from the back to the front of the building is being wiped down and air filters have been set up to clean the air.