Long Beach : High-Rise Ordered Vacated

In a dramatic turnabout, the Long Beach Health Department has ordered that the International Towers, a landmark oceanside high-rise, be vacated until the amount of airborne asbestos in the apartment building can be reduced to safe levels.

"It is recommended that you extend the necessary cooperation to complete the cleanup process as quickly as possible so that the building can be made safe for continued occupancy," said a letter signed by city health officer Dr. Rugmini Shah that was distributed to tenants of the 204-unit building early Wednesday.

The building--which has been undergoing a condominium conversion since January--is the object of a lawsuit and rent strike by tenants who claim that the conversion has been conducted in an unsafe manner, including the illegal removal of asbestos-laden ceiling material in a way that endangered the health of residents. Testing done by Cal/OSHA, as part of an ongoing investigation, indicated an airborne level of .03 to .04 fibers per cubic centimeter, more than three times the .01 allowed in schools.

In an interview last week, Shah told The Times that the situation posed no health hazard. In her letter, however, she indicated that the building must be cleaned to a level of less than .01 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter before the city would consider it safe for continued occupancy. The building is to be vacated during the process, the letter said, to avoid airborne exposure through the ventilation system.

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