Workers installing new carpet in an office suite in the PERA Building recently discovered some of the carpet tiles being removed and replaced contained asbestos. The room, in the part of the building housing the state Office of the Superintendent of Insurance, was sealed off, and an asbestos abatement project will begin this weekend.

Estevan Luján, spokesman for the state General Services Department, said Thursday that authorities have determined the old carpet tiles contained “a very small amount” of asbestos.

The PERA Building houses the insurance office as well as the Public Regulation Commission and the Children Youth and Families Department. Hundreds of state employees work there.

According to a fact sheet on the website of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, asbestos is a known carcinogen that can cause chronic lung disease as well as lung and other cancers. Symptoms can take many years to develop following exposure. Asbestos can be inhaled without knowing it and trapped in the lungs. If swallowed, it can become embedded in the digestive tract.

The five-story, 161,786-square-foot building across Old Santa Fe Trail from the Roundhouse opened in 1967. It was originally owned by the Public Employees Retirement Association, but the state purchased the building about 10 years ago.

The recent work project involved replacing the carpet and painting the walls in Suite 331.

“In order for [the state Facilities Management Division] to continue with the project, the tile must be tested and all safety parameters must be in place to begin abatement,” Luján said. “This includes segregating the entire area with negative pressure filtration that meets [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] standards” and isolates airborne particles.

Luján said painting and carpeting in the area won’t resume until the area is tested by environment officials “to ensure there is no risk to anyone entering the area after abatement.”

The abatement project was scheduled to take place this weekend “to ensure no employees will be in the building during the time,” Luján said. “All precautions are being taken to ensure the utmost safety for all employees and individuals working on the construction.”

Earlier this week, the Facilities Management Division conducted a meeting with the leadership of the agencies that occupy the building. There also was a meeting open to all employees of the building in which state officials and Occupational Safety and Health Administration representatives talked about the abatement plan.

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at tinyurl.com/roundhouseroundup.