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Thomas Chau Sentenced to 51 months in Prison for Felonies Related to Asbestos Removal at Former Philadelphia School

Release Date: 9/7/2000
Contact Information: Donna Heron, 215-814-5113

Donna Heron, 215-814-5113

PHILADELPHIA – Thomas Chau, of Philadelphia, was sentenced today to 51 months in jail, fined $1,000 and put on three years probation for the illegal removal of asbestos.

Chau, who was sentenced in U.S. Eastern District court, pleaded guilty in March to six felony counts related to a July 1997 asbestos removal project at a former public school building located at 1800 S. 16th Street.

“This case demonstrates EPA’s firm belief that polluters cannot be allowed to place public health at risk. We will aggressively pursue polluters who expose the public to harm,” said Bradley M. Campbell, regional administrator.

Chau admitted to knowingly violating Clean Air Act asbestos regulations and making a false statement to an EPA official in connection with converting the building into a nursing home. According to the government, Chau directed that asbestos pipe wrap and other asbestos-containing materials be ripped and stripped from the building, without first being adequately wetted, thereby causing airborne releases of asbestos.

When confronted by the EPA and the City of Philadelphia environmental officials, Chau was told to stop the illegal removal of asbestos. After officials left the scene, Chau continued to rip and strip asbestos and then dumped it in various illegal locations throughout the City of Philadelphia. Asbestos remained in the building until EPA conducted an emergency removal at the school and at a dump site in 1998. The school building is currently vacant and unused.

Asbestos is a hazardous air pollutant that was once heavily used in insulation and other building materials. Exposure and inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause cancer and asbestosis, a serious respiratory disease.

To reduce the risk of asbestos emissions, EPA’s regulations require that asbestos-containing materials that may release asbestos fibers during demolition or renovation be adequately wetted during removal. These materials must remain adequately wetted, or be securely bagged or otherwise treated to minimize asbestos emissions until proper disposal.

This case was investigated by EPA’s criminal investigation division, the FBI, the city of Philadelphia Department of Health, and the Philadelphia Environmental Crimes Task force, the case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, with assistance from EPA Region III’s Office of Regional Counsel.