Illegally Demolishing Asbestos–Containing Building Lands California Building Renovator in Federal Prison for 10 Months

Improper Asbestos Removal at Construction Site Violated Clean Air Act

September 17, 2008 - On August 27, 2008, U.S. District Court Judge Maxine M. Chesney sentenced Wassim Azizi to 10 months in a California federal prison for illegally demolishing a building containing "significant amounts of asbestos". Upon completion of his prison sentence, Mr. Azizi will be on a supervised release for two years. Mr. Azizi's sentence begins on December 1, 2008. ( Press Release, August 28, 2008, U.S. Department of Justice)

Illegal Asbestos Removal Involved Three Violations of Clean Air Act

The sentencing follows Mr. Azizi's conviction on May 13, 2008 by a federal jury. The jury found Mr. Azizi guilty of three violations of the Clean Air Act. The violations stem from the razing of a wooden, two-story, building in Hayward, California, in late 2002 and early 2003. During the demolition of the building, workers and residents living in the surrounding area may have been exposed to asbestos from dust containing airborne asbestos fibers.

The incident sparked an investigation by the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Evidence showed that Mr. Azizi had failed to comply with the Clean Air Act.

Asbestos Regulations Provided by the Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act regulates the removal of asbestos-containing materials. All construction work involving asbestos-containing material is required to comply with the following "work practice" standards:

  • Contact the EPA or their delegate, in this instance the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, 10 days prior to any activity;
  • Manage asbestos-containing material so there is no discharge of visible emissions;
  • Keep asbestos-containing material wet and sealed in leak-tight containers to inhibit the generation of airborne dust;
  • Properly label bags containing regulated asbestos containing material; and,
  • Deposit asbestos-containing material at an authorized disposal site. (40 C.F.R. §§ 61.140-157).

During CID's investigation, it was discovered that Mr. Azizi had apparently violated several of the work practice standards. By failing to notify the EPA and Bay Area Air Quality Management District that the building contained asbestos, he did not obtain the necessary permits allowing him to demolish the building. During the demolition process, he failed to ensure that the asbestos-containing material was kept wet, stored in leak-tight containers, or disposed of in an authorized location.

Nick Torres, Special Agent in Charge of the Environmental Protection Agency's Criminal Investigation Division in San Francisco, stated, "Exposure to asbestos can cause cancer or other serious respiratory diseases, and the government will not tolerate illegal and unsafe asbestos removal practices that put the public health at risk".

For Further Information on Asbestos

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