Asbestos Found After Big Blaze at Apartments in San Jose, California

San Jose firefighters who trudged through the Glen Willow Apartments last week battling the six-alarm blaze must decontaminate their equipment after asbestos was found in the building, fire officials said Monday.

Fire Capt. Allison Cabral said the property management notified the department Sunday of the presence of asbestos in the 42-year-old complex. Officials promptly directed the firefighters who worked on the fire to decontaminate their equipment, jackets, pants, hoods and gloves as a precaution. A notice that they may have been exposed to asbestos will also be put in the firefighters' personnel files.

Cabral said a preliminary assessment found 1 percent of asbestos in the walls and 7 percent to 8 percent in the ceilings, some of which became airborne after the fire. She said an evaluation of the building's safety was expected to be completed today by the Greenspan Company, the San Jose insurance adjusters representing the building's managers.

Calls to the Greenspan Company were not returned Monday. Neither was a call to the managers, identified in property records as Nasrin and Dariush Etessam of Los Gatos.

Terry Lee of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said the agency has been notified of asbestos in the building and will monitor the material's disposal.

Lee said authorities typically will find 2 percent to 3 percent asbestos in ceilings of older buildings, though asbestos in insulation or piping could increase the amount detected.

The federal government banned the use of asbestos in building materials in 1978; the Glen Willow Apartments were built in 1963.

There are no studies available on short-term effects of asbestos exposure, but chronic contact with the material has been linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Some residents who returned to the Willow Street complex to claim more of their property had to sign a waiver before entering the building, said Cynthia Shaw, a Red Cross spokeswoman. Last week, more than 200 people were allowed into their apartments for 10 to 15 minutes to grab their personal belongings.

Shaw continued to help many of the displaced tenants find housing Monday, and planned to operate the shelter at Willow Glen Middle School through Thursday.

About 30 to 40 people have stayed at the shelter since Wednesday's fire. The fire displaced 243 tenants, and caused an estimated $4 million to $5 million in damage. Its cause remained under investigation Monday.

Distributed by the Associated Press