Last week, a cleanup crew began wetting down the material, which is known to cause lung ailments when its particles are inhaled, and sealed up the building on E Street near Ninth Street.
The city of Patterson cited Sacramento-based property manager Red Shield Servicing regarding the mess in late February.
It was the latest of a handful of nuisance-abatement citations at the former hospital property, which also was the site of an interior fire this past summer. Neighbors said it appeared the culprits of the most recent vandalism were extracting copper wire from the building, and clothing left on the premises seemed to indicate people squatted on the property until recently.
One area resident, who did not want to give his name for fear of retaliation from the culprits, said the asbestos materials were lying on the ground for nearly three months.
Hugo Rayo, code enforcement officer for the city of Patterson, noted that vacant buildings often are targets for vandals.
“Obviously, it’s a continual nuisance,” Rayo said of the hospital property.
In addition to calling for Red Shield to abate the property by Monday, March 12, the city reached out to the county’s Department of Environmental Resources, which contacted the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District.
A valley air district representative inspected the site Feb. 27 to test for asbestos, and the city sent a notice Feb. 28 mandating Red Shield Services remove the debris.
On Feb. 29, the district contacted Red Shield representatives, recommending that the site be secured and cleaned as soon as possible, valley air district spokeswoman Jaime Holt said. She noted that test results confirmed March 2 that the material found on the property contained 13 percent asbestos.
Mesa Environmental Services, which received a contract from Red Shield to remove the asbestos, began cleaning up the property March 7 and completed the job within the past week.
A recurring problem
Vandalism has been an on-again, off-again problem at the property the past two years, Rayo said. The city notified Red Shield in June that debris was found on the property, and someone burned old furniture and other items inside the building in July, Rayo said.
Red Shield, which works on behalf of a group of investors that owns the building, addressed some of those complaints by boarding up the place in October.
Del Puerto Hospital closed in the spring of 1998 after 48 years of operation. The property sits directly between Patterson Ambulance Co.’s headquarters and Sutter Gould Medical Foundation’s Patterson Care Center. A portion of the property backs up to a play yard at Las Palmas Elementary School.
The building was more recently used by The Living Center, a drug rehabilitation center that shut down in 2007 after the property went into foreclosure. Several investors are listed on the property deed, signed in December 2007.
A relative of one of the owners, who spoke on condition of anonymity this week, said that Red Shield’s president, Ron Bieber, organized the investors from various cities to refinance a loan on the building when it was still occupied by The Living Center. They had no intention of buying the building, she said, and they ended up acquiring it when previous owners Troy and Sherry Dorman, who ran The Living Center, defaulted on the loan.
At least two of the investors have since died. The relative said that, to her knowledge, the families that own the building do not know one another, and Bieber is calling the shots.
“At this point, legally, I don’t know what I can do,” she said. “We’re kind of hanging out in the wind.”
Bieber said by phone earlier last week that his company did not own the property. He did not later return calls after the Irrigator learned that Red Shield manages the property and was initially named as the trustee when the property was foreclosed.
The parcel’s caretaker, Patterson resident Bob Crone, would not comment on the matter, as he is employed by Red Shield.
Potential health hazard
A cleanup crew sealed the property with caution tape last week and posted notices stating that asbestos was on the property. While some of that tape was removed, the warning signs remained posted this week.
Chad Vargas is CEO of the Del Puerto Health Care District, which runs the ambulance district and a health center in western Patterson and has its central offices right next door. He expressed worry about safety hazards, noting that a representative from the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District stopped by last week. Vargas had urged his workers to avoid parking in the lot alongside the property.
Meanwhile, the Patterson Joint Unified School District will send a consultant it more routinely uses to check for asbestos at local schools to take a look at Las Palmas, just in case there are any problems, said Steve Menge, the district’s assistant superintendent of administrative services. He stressed that the district takes asbestos issues seriously.
Fibers found in asbestos — the name given to a group of natural minerals used in building supplies, brake pads and other materials known for heat-resistance — can cause serious lung ailments if the particles become airborne and are inhaled.
Long-term exposure to serpentine asbestos, the most common form of asbestos, can result in lung cancer or asbestosis — a scarring of the lining of the lungs — according to Mike Sharp, owner of Modesto-based Hazard Management Services.
Even short-term exposure to amphibole types of asbestos, commonly used in pipe wrap, can cause mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer related specifically to asbestos, Sharp said. However, mesothelioma symptoms typically take 10 to 40 years to show up, he said.
Sharp, who is also an instructor at the University of California, Berkeley, Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, said it was hard to say whether people who work nearby could be harmed if they were downwind of those materials.
“It may not be doing them any harm, but it’s not doing them any good,” he said.
• Jonathan Partridge can be reached at 892-6187, ext. 26, or email@example.com.