DEP Finds Asbestos at The Sheffield; Swig May Face Fines

City inspectors found that the ceiling coating at the Sheffield on West 57th Street, which is undergoing a renovation as part of a condo conversion, contains asbestos and ordered a halt to any work on the ceiling until an abatement plan could be put into place. 

Earlier tests by a contractor hired by the developer, Kent Swig, showed that the ceiling material did not contain any asbestos, which meant that he did not have to hire firms licensed to remove asbestos and control its dispersion during the renovations.

Ian Michaels, a spokesman for the city Department of Environmental Protection, said that seven out of 12 tests taken April 17 contained at least 1 percent asbestos, which is high enough that a licensed asbestos removal firm would have to do any work on them. Mr. Swig is having the textured, stucco-like ceilings sanded down.

Rent-stabilized tenants, who are permitted by law to remain in the building during the renovations and even after the conversion, have raised a ruckus over the disruptive work that has been going on since last fall and, as reported in the April 23 Observer, have enlisted the support of City Councilwoman Gale Brewer and other local politicians.

Mr. Swig said that a variety of inspectors--from the D.E.P., the state, his own contractors and those hired by his lenders--took more than 150 samples of the ceilings and that those samples showed no evidence of asbestos.

"The trace amounts are way under the legal limit," he told The Real Estate. "I would argue that whoever's data that was that came out with a positive trace was inaccurate."

Mr. Michaels countered that the ceilings contained enough asbestos that a proper asbestos abatement program was supposed to be doing any work on it, in case the asbestos was disturbed. Mr. Swig has been ordered to hire an asbestos-licensed firm to clean the building's common areas and also to use a licensed abatement firm to continue work on the ceilings. In addition, he has agreed to offer the current tenants air-monitoring tests and cleaning services inside their apartments, and may yet face fines, Mr. Michaels said.

The D.E.P had taken 10 samples from ceilings at the Sheffield previously but none of them showed a presence of the carcinogen, Mr. Michaels said. He said that when the Sheffield was built, the contractors may have used different mixtures of substances in different parts of the building.