District environmental control officials, responding to complaints from tenants, have removed a large quantity of cancer-causing asbestos from the basement and grounds of the Naylor Garden Apartments in Southeast Washington.
About 30 cubic yards of insulation material containing the asbestos was found scattered throughout the property late last week after a private plumbing contractor began installing a new system of pipes in the apartments.
The asbestos material, which had been used to cover the old pipes, was left by workers on the basement floor and placed in trash receptacles outside the apartment complex, according to city officials.
Late last week, inspectors moved swiftly to arrange to have the material removed after experts conducted laboratory analyses to determine the content of the material.
"We were very concerned about it," said John Holmes, an inspector with the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. "We were unable to take air samples, but we wanted something done immediately."
Earl Gable, manager of the apartments at 2725 30th St. SE, expressed concern about the incident. However, he said that federal occupational safety and health inspectors visited the apartments Friday and told him that they did not see a problem.
"We're trying to do what is right," Gable said. "So far I have not been told we're doing anything wrong . . . . We put a hold on the work until they tell us if we have to change."
In responding to the health hazard, city officials had to deal with a tangled jurisdictional question.
The federal occupational safety and health officials who were called in last week are responsible for dealing with hazardous situations in the work place, but they do not have jurisdiction in landlord-tenant matters, according to a federal official.
City officials said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has chief responsibility for regulating the handling of asbestos in the District but that the EPA was not called to the apartments.
Under clean air legislation recently approved by the D.C. City Council, the city soon may assume responsibility from the EPA for regulating the use of asbestos and other hazardous materials here. Even without that authority, city officials said, they concluded that they had no choice but to step in and get rid of the asbestos as quickly as possible.
"This is the first time we've had a flagrant-type problem like that where we can pinpoint who is responsible," said Claude Jones, the city's chief of enforcement.
The city said that A&J Plumbing, the Camp Springs, Md., company hired to replace the pipes, will be billed for the cost of removing the asbestos material.