Asbestos Cited in Call for New Santa Monica Library

Times Staff Writer

Faced with the difficulty of reducing the level of asbestos in its main library, the city of Santa Monica may consider razing the 6th Street facility and building a new one near the Civic Auditorium.

City Manager John Jalili said he will urge the City Council at its Sept. 10 meeting to study building a library as part of a proposed civic center development on city-owned land at the northeast corner of Pico Boulevard and Main Street.

In conjunction with the study, Jalili said he will ask the council to delay a $1.8-million project, scheduled to begin in December, that would replace the 20-year-old library's ceiling and make other improvements to reduce the asbestos level.

Jalili said he wants the new library both because he doubts whether the asbestos clean-up would be sufficient and because the facility, the largest community library on the Westside, has outgrown its 47,000-square-foot quarters.

He said library workers are concerned about health hazards associated with inhaling asbestos fibers. "And while, by federal standards, there is no health hazard from the asbestos level in the library, we, as a city, tend to be conservative in matters of employee health," Jalili said.

"The basic question now is whether we want to spend the $1.8 million on a Band-Aid approach that still leaves asbestos in the building. An alternative would be to build a 'state-of-the-art' facility that would complement whatever the council decided to do with the proposed civic center."

Stanley Scholl, the city's director of general services, also preferred a new library, even though he said the existing building meets safety standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The permissible level is 2 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter of air, and there are only .07 fibers per cubic centimeter in all areas of the library except the reading room, where the level is .09, he said.

Asbestos concentration throughout the library is below .10, the level at which the EPA recommends remedial action, Scholl added.

Scholl said he would prefer a new library because "we are not interested in a clean-up program that could leave the same number of fibers in the air as before. There are fibers in the ceiling, in the walls, in the carpets, everywhere."

Fatal Disease

The most fearsome illness associated with asbestos is asbestosis, a fatal lung disease developed through inhalation of large amounts of the fiber. World War II shipyard workers were common victims.

The Manville Corp., formerly known as Johns-Manville Corp., once one of the largest manufacturers of asbestos, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1982, in part because of losing several lawsuits for not warning workers against the health hazards of inhaling asbestos fibers.

Asbestos was mixed with the plaster and sprayed on the ceilings of the Santa Monica Main Library when it was built in 1965. Scholl said it was a common form of insulation because it was fireproof and because it lengthened the life of the plaster.

The substance's health dangers came to light in later years. The library's specific problem was discovered in November, 1983, when a firm hired to clean up the book stacks and other areas stirred up a substantial number of fibers.

Molly Richardson, assistant city librarian, said the facility's 57 full-time employees and its part-time staff have been uneasy since the 1983 clean-up.

"By any objective standard, the library is safe," she said. "But asbestos does deteriorate and little particles do float down from the ceiling. The staff generally supports the concept of a new library.

"The major concern among employees is the possibility of having to stay here while the new facility is being constructed.

Running Out of Room

"That concern aside, we definitely need a larger, more modern library. It is the largest community library between central Los Angeles and the ocean."

"The library is running out of room to stack books, to add new services--even the parking is inadequate," city manager Jalili agreed.

The main library, at 1343 6th St., houses 225,000 volumes and circulates nearly 700,000 books a year. The largest Westside branch of the Los Angeles City Library is the West Los Angeles Regional Library, 11360 Santa Monica Blvd. It has 13,740 square feet, 91,308 volumes and a yearly circulation of 250,000 books.

Jalili said a new library could be finished within three years. He declined to estimate the cost but said construction could be financed through sale of the present library site, a valuable property in downtown Santa Monica.

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