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Hotel Air Shows Little Asbestos, Lawyer Says : Health: Tests reveal one fiber of the cancer-causing substance, according to attorney for Hotel San Diego. County continues to move temporary courtrooms.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tests for asbestos in the air at the Hotel San Diego came up almost all negative, the hotel’s attorney said Friday, but undeterred county officials finished moving nine temporary courtrooms out of the site and scrambled to find replacement buildings downtown.

Meanwhile, the discovery and subsequent removal earlier this month of asbestos at the hotel was referred Friday to the San Diego County district attorney’s office for investigation. The hotel, which opted Wednesday to close because of asbestos fears, was cited last week by county health and pollution authorities for tossing asbestos-laced material in a waste bin behind the building.

The nine courtrooms were shut Monday because asbestos was found in the carpet. But tests for asbestos in the air on each of the six floors of the hotel turned up negative, except for a sole fiber in one of 12 vials, lawyer Stephen D. Burchett said. “So nobody should be getting all too excited about breathing the air around there,” he said.

Officials at the 219-room hotel on Broadway, across the street from the County Courthouse, decided Wednesday to close down after tests on carpets turned up asbestos not just in the courtrooms but around the hotel.

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The county has leased space for seven Superior courts and two Municipal courts from the hotel for the past two years, seeking to alleviate severe crowding across the street in the main courthouse.

It remained unclear Friday whether the hotel, which has been in bankruptcy proceedings since last year, will close for good. The decisions that need to be made depend on meetings with the bankruptcy court and asbestos experts, and probably will take until next week, Burchett said.

Jim Phipps, a deputy district attorney, said it could be two or three months before prosecutors decide whether criminal charges are warranted.

Not knowing that a chunk of ceiling that fell Aug. 13 in one of the courtrooms contained asbestos, hotel workers scraped the asbestos-tainted ceiling clean and tossed it in the trash, authorities said earlier this week.

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