Residents of the Driftwood Apartments near North Avenue and 28 Road were unaware of a major asbestos spill in a common area of their building for at least two days, and probably more, according to a timeline laid out by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
An anonymous complaint April 10 that a building rehabilitation project hadn't been properly sampled or tested led the agency to get involved with the property owner, according to state officials.
When it was determined that renovation work had been ongoing and no sampling or testing had been done, CDPHE facilitated a third-party analysis by a certified asbestos contractor, who tested the area on April 12 and told the agency April 13 that a major asbestos spill had occurred.
By CDPHE definition, a major spill occurs when a trigger-level amount of asbestos has been damaged or disturbed, which was the case with Driftwood.
Residents of the 36-unit building said they were given no notice the night of April 13 when they were told to evacuate, and the building has been vacant but for mitigation crews and inspectors since then.
"According to Colorado law, they're required to sample prior to any construction work in an apartment complex, for asbestos," said Jeff Wolfe, an environmental protection specialist and inspector with CDPHE.
"It was determined that they didn't do so (in this case)," he said.
"We have what is called a major asbestos spill that was determined to be at the building," said Laura Shumpert, CDPHE compliance and enforcement unit supervisor.
As to potential violations that may have occurred for not doing an inspection prior to renovation or demolition activities, "We'll be looking at those issues once we get past the initial response, and cleaning of the building, and turning it back over to the tenants," Shumpert said.
According to county assessor records, the building is owned by a company called 25th Street Apartments LLC. The listed registered agent of that company is Thomas Bolger.
Wolfe, who inspected the site himself on April 24, said that the agency received a permit May 13 from Denver contractor Asbestos Professionals LLC, who has been working on the cleanup since then.
Wolfe said all the units of the building are individually sourced for air — meaning they have their own heating and cooling units — but that hall areas were deemed contaminated due to work in common areas of the building.
"Realistically, anyone who was in the building could have been exposed," Wolfe said last week.
The questions of resident exposure — both how much and for how long — are difficult ones to answer, Shumpert said.
"We know materials were disturbed, (but) the level of exposure is not something we can speculate on," she said. "We weren't there, we have no air sampling."
"Obviously, the protections and regulations are in place to prevent any exposure ahead of time. That didn't happen here," she said.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber, and building products that aren't made of wood, glass, rubber, vinyl or metal are all suspect.
"Any time you disturb a building material that is not one of those you potentially could be impacting asbestos," Wolfe said, adding that the acoustical, or "popcorn" ceiling being worked on at Driftwood did return a positive test result for asbestos.
People who believe that they have health concerns related to asbestos should talk to their doctor first, officials advise, who also urge that people conduct an inspection before undergoing renovation or demolition projects.
"Please do have things checked before you disturb them," Shumpert said.