ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A newly released report blasting the city reveals high-ranking officials violated codes of conduct, and federal regulations, jeopardizing the health and safety of employees at the city’s Gateway Center. The 43-page Albuquerque Inspector General’s investigation outlines what went wrong.

For the first time since Larry Barker exposed the problems with asbestos at the Albuquerque Gateway Center, city officials responded to concerns during last night’s city council meeting. “We failed to notify and test for asbestos in that area,” said John Craig, Director of General Services CABQ.

Craig is referring to the 4,000-square-foot area on the second floor of the Gateway Center. It’s an area that’s being renovated as part of the city’s massive project to transform the old Gibson Medical Center into a multi-purpose homeless shelter and health services center.

“What we found is that last May, 24th and 25th – the contractor working in that area went in and took out the tiling in that area,” Craig explained. “What was found to be the case after the fact was that the tile glue that was gluing that tile down was indeed tested positive for asbestos-containing materials.”

The report states that asbestos was not properly disposed of and administrators did not comply with the city’s code of conduct, posing a major health risk. “The contractor is also in part responsible for what happened here, and our review now has recognized that we did miss some steps, and obviously not happy about that,” said Lawrence Rael, the Mayor’s Chief Administrative Officer.

Rael said his office is now working on a report to notify everyone who may have been exposed to asbestos, a substance linked to health risks like lung cancer and mesothelioma. A health risk Rael appeared to downplay during the council meeting. “It’s non-friable asbestos which basically means that it’s not the kind we hear about as it relates to the dust and powder that people breathe,” said Rael.

The chief concern expressed was for construction workers who had no idea they were working in a danger zone. The OIG report refers to observations during an on-site visit in March.

“Of the many contractors present, most were not wearing protective gear,” the report states. “Only two contractors had protective masks on, one had a hard hat and two had on safety glasses.”

When concerns were raised in February, the report states, “The evidence shows that Administrators, Directors, and key employees disregarded instructions by RM {Risk Management} to shut down the site due to possible asbestos exposure to City employees, tenants, contractors, and visitors.”

The report also cites OSHA violations that “created a threat to the health of anyone in the facility.”

How was this missed? A timeline shows asbestos testing took place and was properly handled in portions of the facility dating back to 2020. But a failure to test and inspect the area on the second floor during the demo last year was a major blunder.

“Without creating if you will, a panic regarding the entire facility, it’s a very isolated incident that we’re working with professionals to see who may have been affected that we’d need to notify,” said John Craig during the city council meeting.

The report states that a “review of the asbestos timeline along with interviews raise concerns that the Environmental Health Department may have misled the public … by minimizing the asbestos issue.”

A city spokeswoman says the construction was halted for a time and air quality testing has since shown everything is clear. KRQE was told city administrators were not available for interviews. The Gateway Center is still on track to officially open its 50 beds in June.