Automobile Accident Leads to Asbestos Discovery

On 10 December 2007, a 27-year-old man named Jason Reza Mohammed was behind the wheel of a 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe SUV, traveling down Hacienda Road in the small southern California town of La Habra, about five miles southeast of the Los Angeles suburb of Whittier. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department report, Mr. Mohammed suddenly and unexpectedly suffered from an epileptic seizure. He lost control of the vehicle, and it went careening into City Hall and into the city council chambers. That was just the start of the problems. The damage to the city council chambers revealed the existence of asbestos in the floor tiles.

According to acting City Manager Shauna Clark, the amount of asbestos in the floor tiles could be as much as five percent. In any event, this unexpected–and unwelcome–discovery means that repairs to the facility will take longer and cost considerably more than originally anticipated. Clark was quoted as saying, “…it’s something we’ll have to address when we fix the building.” The final cost of asbestos abatement has yet to be determined. According to public works manager Bruce Barrete, how much the city of La Habra will have to come up with will be determined by its insurer, the Southern California Joint Powers Authority.

In any event, it is hoped that the room will be ready by 14 February, when the city council is scheduled for its next meeting. According to Barrette, that is the current objective. “I don’t know if it’s realistic,” he acknowledged. “The question is how fast they can get people on site to do the work.” That work is tightly regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the California State Departments of Health and Environmental Protection–so a quick and easy fix is out of the question. There have been two city council meetings since the accident. However, the damaged area has been sealed off, and for reasons of public health and safety, continues to be made off-limits to the general public.