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U.S. EPA settles asbestos case with Bay Area construction consultant

Release Date: 05/10/2007
Contact Information: Margot Perez-Sullivan, Desk (415) 947-4149/Cell (415) 760-9161

Three defendants paid $170,000 in penalties for alleged Clean Air Act violations

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached a $20,000 settlement with a construction consultant for violating federal regulations governing asbestos removal from buildings in Hayward, Calif. in 2000.

The construction consultant, Timothy Chu Construction Consulting Services, is paying a penalty of $20,000. Settlements were previously reached with the building owner, Cheng, Chow and Chu, Inc, for $149,000 and the construction company, Sincere Construction, for $1,500. The asbestos removal was also the subject of a criminal investigation which resulted in a plea agreement under which the building owner Clifford Cheng served four months under house arrest and paid a $5,000 criminal penalty.

“This case was particularly important because of the large amounts of asbestos and the delay in mitigating the problem,” said Deborah Jordan, director of the Air Division in the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. “We are pleased that all responsible parties were held accountable, and acknowledge the fine work of the Bay Area AQMD inspectors that was so crucial to making this case.”

Asbestos is a known environmental carcinogen that the EPA has determined is a hazardous air pollutant. It presents a significant risk to human health as a result of air emissions. Individuals exposed to asbestos fibers can contract illnesses such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

In August 2000, Cheng, Chow and Chu hired Sincere Construction to remove regulated asbestos-containing materials such as acoustic ceiling, tiles, linoleum, insulation, fire-proofing, and stucco from the former Hayward Chiropractic College located on Maple Court and Main Street in Hayward. Timothy Chu Construction Consulting Services was hired to oversee the work. Ultimately, more than 31,000 square feet of asbestos-containing material was removed from the building.

In September 2000, Bay Area Air Quality Management District investigators inspected the facility and saw workers using wheelbarrows to dump dry construction debris in open containers, creating clouds of dust and leaving wheelbarrow tracks. Sampling showed the debris was friable asbestos.
EPA and Bay Area Air District investigators uncovered numerous asbestos emission and disposal violations in the building. Investigators verified that the asbestos was not kept wet and emissions to the outside air were apparent. In addition, neither Sincere Construction nor Timothy Chu Construction Consulting Services was a certified asbestos contractor as required by law.

Despite repeated inspections, the asbestos remained unabated until October 20, 2000.

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