Of the Baker City Herald

State inspectors visited Baker City Hall last week to investigate a complaint from a city police officer or officers who said they had to walk through dust that may have contained asbestos.

The city expects to receive a report from the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division soon, City Manager Gordon Zimmerman said Monday.

The city could be fined if it violated state workplace safety rules, said Steve Corson, a spokesman for the state agency, which enforces those rules.

Fines could range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, he said.

Whether the city is fined, and if so how much, depends on several factors, Corson said. Those include the number of employees who might have been exposed to asbestos, the duration of the exposure and the likelihood the asbestos might have caused injury, he said.

Solid materials containing asbestos, such as ceiling or roof tiles, generally arent considered hazardous. But if such materials are broken up in a manner that creates dust, people may ingest asbestos fibers, which are known to cause lung and heart diseases and are linked to several types of cancer.

Zimmerman said the state doesnt release complainants names, and he doesnt know whether one or more employees filed the complaint.

Corson said the complaint will not be made public until the investigation is finished. The Occupational Safety and Health Division maintains complainants anonymity at their request, he said.

Det. Kirk McCormick, who is responsible for the property room, said he is aware of the concerns about possible exposure to asbestos, but that he doesnt know whether one or more employees filed the complaint.

Zimmerman said the complaint stems from demolition work earlier this year in the police department offices at City Hall.

That area was damaged by water that leaked into the offices during a downpour in July 2000. The storm occurred while workers were waiting to install a new roof on City Hall.

During the demolition, city workers wore face masks to protect themselves from the dust, Zimmerman said.

City officials learned later that floor tiles in the area, and the glue used to hold them in place, contain asbestos, City Attorney Tim Collins said.

The complaint states that police officers, who didnt have masks, had to walk through dust to get to the police property room, Zimmerman said.

Although the police department employees moved to the county sheriffs office after last Julys rain storm, the department has continued to store found property and evidence at City Hall, he said.

Zimmerman said hes not aware of any police officers asking that the city supply them with protective masks during the demolition.

He said he didnt learn of concerns about asbestos dust until the state notified the city of the complaint.

Were concerned about our workers and we want to make sure the working environment is safe, Zimmerman said.

In a letter to Stanton Thomas, a health enforcement manager at the Occupational Safety and Health Divisions Bend field office, Zimmerman wrote that because of the transitory nature of this matter, we do not believe there is any possibility (of) long-term exposure to a hazardous material.

McCormick said he usually has to visit the property room every day.

He said other officers schedules vary, but that they have to go to that room every time they seize property or need to collect evidence from one of their cases.

Last summers cloudburst was the first of two watery incidents at City Hall that uncovered asbestos.

Collins said the city also has confirmed that floor tiles on the second floor of City Hall contain asbestos.

Workers from Sid Johnson andamp; Co. removed those tiles recently after that portion of City Hall was damaged by water from a broken pipe fitting in the buildings attic.

Collins said the contractor removed the tiles by a process that doesnt produce dust.

He said the city will hire someone to conduct a complete asbestos inventory of City Hall soon.

An inventory was done several years ago at the citys public works warehouse and shop on Seventh Street, but not at other city buildings. The citys insurance carrier recommended also inspecting the other buildings in a 1996 letter, Collins said.