Who Is Responsible?

According to Bernd Schaefer, when he purchased a former Air Force Station in Cambria, California, two years ago, he paid out $75,000 to an asbestos abatement company to deal with the problem of cleaning asbestos insulation out of the buildings still standing on the property. “I feel an abatement company would do the right job. I paid $75,000 and they gave me a list of buildings that was cleared of asbestos so I had no worry,” he says. If this is the case, why did San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health (SLCEH) officials find a worse asbestos problem than before? Last month, the officers received a tip that hazardous waste was being buried on the property illegally. Following up on that tip, agency inspectors confirmed the presence of an asbestos problem even worse than it had been when the property was inspected in 2005.

San Luis Obispo County may file criminal charges against Schaefer, who they allege was aware of the asbestos problem, and illegally removed and buried the substance on his own property. “Why would I bury asbestos in my ground when two years later I find it again?” Schaefer points out, denying the county’s allegations. Schaefer is presently working with a group of engineering and architecture students from near by California Polytechnic University in exploring the possibility of turning the site into a computer-technology training institute for economically disadvantaged youth. Uniphi, a subsidiary of the non-profit Our Kids Future Foundation, would occupy the center when completed. Under the guidance of professor Nick Watry, the students are developing preliminary blueprints for Schaefer’s property, which they plan to have ready by the end of the calendar year. In the meantime, SLCEH has closed the property to all but authorized personnel, including investigators and current residents–who have been prohibited from removing any items from the property pending completion of the investigation.