SAN CLEMENTE — An Orange County Sheriff’s Department substation was evacuated last week after a carpet removal project released asbestos particles into the OCSD offices in the lower level of the building.
City officials now are awaiting test results to determine whether the particles invaded the second floor of the building, which houses the City Council chambers.
City and sheriff’s department officials said asbestos was disturbed and released into the air, Tuesday, May 21, after a contractor pulled up tiles glued down with black mastic containing the substance. The building has been known to contain asbestos but it is unknown if it had previously been disturbed, officials said.
After the substation was closed, deputies and staff spent about four hours May 22 removing evidence, weapons, uniforms and office furniture. The evidence was processed and is being stored in the Aliso Viejo and San Juan Capistrano substations, sheriff’s officials said.
A mobile command post has been set up outside the San Clemente building but deputies begin their shifts at the Aliso Viejo substation.
Air test results conducted in the sheriff’s substation May 22 revealed no health threat, said San Clemente Assistant City Manager Erik Sund. He also said the air filtration systems between the two floors are separate.
On May 21, around noon, a city-hired crew that was installing hard-surface flooring began pulling up carpet, some of which was attached to the floor tiles. When workers tried to tear the carpet away, the tiles began ripping from the floor, Sund said.
“When they began chipping away at a 5-by-5-foot area with a crowbar to remove the tiles and then used a shop vacuum to clean up the mess, one of the investigators called the lieutenant,” said Sgt. Paul Ketcham. “I called our office and spoke to an administrative worker who contacted a city employee and told them they need to stop what they were doing.”
About 45 deputies and administrative personnel were evacuated from the building immediately.
Later that day, more than 400 residents, city officials, the City Council and media were in the upper part of the building attending a council meeting.
“As a precaution, the city is testing (the second story) just to be sure,” Sund said on Tuesday, May 28. “The building is only utilized for council. We hope to have the results back by the council meeting planned for Tuesday, June 4.”
Sund said it was “premature” to comment on whether there were any health threats to those who attended last week’s council meeting.
Cleanup of the building could take two to six weeks, Sund said. City and county risk managers are collaborating on the cleanup plan, he said. Once the plan is in place, it will go to the South Coast Air Quality Management District for a final review.
The cost of cleaning the building has not been determined, Sund said.