Navy Evacuates 242 Workers in Asbestos Scare : Port Hueneme: A building is closed after a construction crew contaminates a room with the cancer-causing fiber, officials say.


The Navy evacuated 242 employees from a building on the Port Hueneme Navy base this week after discovering that a civilian construction crew had contaminated at least one large room with asbestos being removed during renovations, authorities said.

Work crews have sealed off the contaminated room in the administration building of the Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory at Port Hueneme. Test results Wednesday showed no detectable levels of the cancer-causing fiber in other parts of the building, Navy and Ventura County officials said.

Some employees will be allowed to return to work in the building as early as today after janitors mop the floors and wipe down the walls and furniture for any lingering particles of asbestos, said Capt. Paul Chapla, the engineering lab’s commanding officer. He expects the rest of the administrative staff to return to their desks by Monday.


“We are taking this very seriously,” said Chapla, who placed 140 employees on paid leave Monday until the building could be confirmed as safe. Chapla said he ordered the building thoroughly cleaned as an added precaution against exposure.

Allen Danzig, an enforcement manager for the county’s Air Pollution Control District, confirmed that air-sample tests showed the building is safe for workers to return--except for the one sealed room. Workers, he said, “contaminated the good-sized room because they mishandled some asbestos-wrapped pipe.”

Asbestos was commonly used in insulation and as a fire-retardant in building materials from the 1930s to the 1970s. It was banned by state law in 1979. Microscopic asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer and a fatal lung disease called asbestosis.

Danzig said the district will be filing civil charges against Santa Barbara Asbestos Control Inc. for mishandling the removal and disposal of the asbestos.

The county, he said, can seek damages of up to $25,000 for each of three counts.

“It was negligence on the part of the employees,” Danzig said. “If we felt it was done on purpose, we would file criminal charges,” he said.

“We will definitely be challenging or refuting those charges,” said Mark Lee, president of Santa Barbara Asbestos Control. “These were extremely small amounts of material. . . . The material was handled properly.”

Furthermore, he said, “the evacuation of the building arose out of a misinterpretation of an air sample. Subsequent testing confirmed that the building was not contaminated.”