March 26, 2019

Major Asbestos Violations Result in $370,000+ in Fines for Two Companies

An investigation by Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) into a demolition project at a Seattle apartment building found a total of 19 willful and serious safety and health violations. As a result, the two businesses involved in the project have been fined a total of $379,100.

Partners Construction Inc., of Federal Way, Wash., was cited for a total of 14 willful and serious violations and fined $291,950. Asbestos Construction Management Inc., of Bonney Lake, Wash., was fined $87,150 for five willful and serious violations.

The violations were for asbestos exposure to workers, asbestos debris left on site and other violations that occurred during demolition of an apartment building in the Fremont neighborhood. The three-story, five-unit apartment building was originally constructed with “popcorn” ceilings, a white substance containing asbestos fibers, as well as asbestos sheet vinyl flooring.

Asbestos is an extremely hazardous material that can lead to asbestosis, a potentially fatal disease, as well as mesothelioma and lung cancer. Removal of asbestos-containing building materials must be done by a certified abatement contractor who follows safety and health rules to protect workers and the public from exposure to asbestos. The contractor also must ensure proper removal and disposal of the asbestos materials.

Partners Construction Inc., a certified asbestos abatement contractor at the time, was hired by the building owner to remove the asbestos before the apartment building was demolished.

After several weeks, Partners provided the building owner with a letter of completion indicating that all asbestos had been removed. When L&I inspectors responded to a worker complaint, the inspectors found that the removal work had not been done and approximately 5,400 square feet of popcorn ceiling remained throughout, as well as asbestos sheet vinyl flooring.

Partners came back to finish the abatement work; however, due to a prior history of willful violations, L&I was in the process of revoking Partners’ certification to do asbestos abatement work. In May, Partners was decertified and went out of business.

A new company, Asbestos Construction Management Inc. (ACM), owned by a family member of the Partners owner, took over the job using essentially the same workers and certified asbestos supervisor as Partners, and sharing the same equipment.

A subsequent L&I inspection of ACM found many of the same violations as in the Partners’ inspection. L&I has initiated decertification action against ACM.

The employers have 15 business days to appeal the citation.

Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.

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Major Asbestos Violations Result in $370,000+ in Fines for Two Companies

Federal Eye: Report: EPA asbestos experiment threatened public health

September 26

The federal agency in charge of protecting human health and the environment caused a threat in both of those areas while experimenting with a relatively new method for asbestos control, according to a watchdog report released Thursday.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general said the EPA overlooked violations of environmental law and disregarded research guidance while studying an alternative approach to demolishing asbestos-containing buildings.

“This resulted in wasted resources and the potential exposure of workers and the public to unsafe levels of asbestos,” the report said.

Auditors found that the research also lacked proper oversight or even an agreed-to goal. The project cost about $3.5 million for contracting, staff time and other expenses between 2004 and 2012.

“The high-dollar cost, potential public health risks, and failure of the [alternative method] to provide reliable data and results are management-control problems that need to be addressed,” the report said.

Asbestos is a human carcinogen. Exposure to the fibers, which were once commonly used for insulation, can cause deadly health problems such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

EPA standards require trained technicians to remove asbestos from buildings before demolition in order to prevent the fibers from entering the air. But the agency wanted to test an alternative method: Wetting materials before and during the wrecking-and-removal process. The technique is already allowed for buildings that are on the verge of collapse.

The EPA research came as part of an nearly 20-year old initiative to find innovative and better approaches for protecting the environment and public health. In this case, the project backfired.

Auditors said the EPA “did not adequately address health and environmental issues,” adding that “key decisions on health and safety issues … were allowed to go unresolved.” The agency used its enforcement discretion to ignore violations of environmental law to support the experiment, according to the report.

The inspector general recommended that the EPA require its research to follow controlled processes. The agency agreed with the proposals and has already completed many of them.

“We continually are improving our research protocols and processes to achieve the highest possible scientific standards to protect the American public and our environment,” EPA press secretary Liz Purchia said in a statement. “We have made significant changes to our research planning process to require that all research includes oversight procedures and input from senior managers.”

The EPA has not approved the alternative asbestos-control method, and the agency will not use it as part of its standards for emissions and air pollutants, Purchia said.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.

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Federal Eye: Report: EPA asbestos experiment threatened public health

Asbestos discovery blocks Boulder City bypass

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Asbestos discovery blocks Boulder City bypass