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Berkeley building not a health threat, officials say

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet staff
Friday August 10, 2001

An official with the Berkeley Toxics Management Division said a west Berkeley building posted with “quarantine” signs Thursday poses no health threat to people living and working nearby. 

Nabil Al-Hadithy of the city’s toxics office said the quarantine pertains to hazardous waste materials on the building site, 2334 Fourth St., rather than the building itself. 

“The materials have been covered and stabilized,” he said. 

Formerly Jetco Motors, a business that exported used engines, the building is a charred skeleton today.  

It was destroyed in May 2000 when one of the worst fires in the city’s history ripped through the neighboring Andros Technology building and spread into Jetco Motors.  

Signs posted on the Jetco building say hazardous waste materials must not be removed from the site without the permission of the toxics office or a court. 

Al-Hadithy declined to comment on what kinds of hazardous materials are at issue, saying only that the city had been notified of the materials’ presence by the District Attorney’s office.  

Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Michael O’Conner said the information leading to the quarantine surfaced in a criminal investigation. 

“Even when conducting a criminal investigation you have to keep public safety in mind,” O’Conner said.  

But he declined to elaborate, siting an ongoing investigation. 

Jetco Motors officials could not be reached for comment late Thursday. 

Berkeley Assistant Fire Chief David Orth said the firefighters who battled the fire – 75 in all – were aware at the time that the Jetco Motors site had hazardous hydrocarbon chemicals in the numerous car engines that were stored there. 

“The building basically had racks and racks of engines that had been pulled from wrecked cars,” Orth said.  

The engines had oil, transmission fluids and other motor chemicals still inside, he added.