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Burdened by fire-gutted eyesore for 10 months, Westbury tenants now coping with moldy debris pile

More tenants raising health concerns
Posted at 11:06 PM, Jul 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-07 01:06:01-04

WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- When fire raced through Building E at the Westbury Apartments in July of 2018, neighboring tenants had no idea they'd still be coping with the debris one year later.

"It was an eyesore," one tenant told Denver7.

In mid-May, work crews began demolishing the gutted structure.

Neighbors rejoiced.

"It was like wow, finally," Theresa Ramirez said.

Nearly two months later, their elation has dissipated.

The massive debris pile remains.

"I feel like I'm living next to a city dump," said Lena Garcia. "The smell is horrible."

Garcia said there's a strong moldy smell emanated from the debris.

That smell may be a result of recent rains, and the daily spraying of the debris with water, to prevent the release of asbestos fibers.

"I've noticed I've been getting more coughs lately," Garcia said, "so I went to my doctor and he told me I needed to get out of this."

"It's just a really bad odor," said Jakeisha McClarin, who moved into her apartment one day before the big fire, which killed two people and injured nine others.

She said when she runs her air conditioner, it draws the putrid smell into her apartment.

"You want to turn the air conditioner off," she said, "but if you do that, you suffer and get hot."

And McClarin said she can't step out onto her deck because it's still covered with a sheet of protective plastic, put in place to protect tenants from asbestos and drywall dust during the demolition.

She said heat generated from her wall-mounted air conditioning unit turns her plastic-encased deck into a sauna.

McClarin said she's anxious to see both the debris pile and the plastic sheets be removed.

She said she cut a hole in the plastic because it has become so unbearably hot.

Garcia told Denver7 that tenants aren't being told about the dangers of asbestos, nor are they being told when all the debris will be removed.

She said she took her doctor's note to the apartment manager.

"She was like, you can move. I can break your lease, but you've got to pay 17-hundred (dollars.) I'm like why?"

Denver7 reached out to the state health department to find out if there is a time limit on how long crews have, to remove the debris.

We have yet to hear back.

In a online summary of asbestos regulation, the Environmental Protection Agency said "any building may contain asbestos. Inhalation exposure can occur when asbestos-containing material is disturbed and releases fibers."

The Asbestos NESHAP (National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants) demolition and renovation provisions require the owner/operator to adequately wet asbestos containing material prior to, during, and in preparation for transport and disposal.

The EPA says keeping material wet and contained minimizes emissions.

Denver7 also reached out to Westbury Apartments to see how long it will take to finish the cleanup.

We have yet to hear back.

Ms. Garcia said she sees about four truckloads of material being transported out daily.

She says the trucks are lined in plastic and the debris is covered in plastic before it is shipped out.