Washington State regulators have charged the Longwell Company of Bellevue, a real estate investment and management company, with violating state asbestos regulations.
Longwell, a private company, has – in its own words, “acquired, managed and disposed of multi-family real estate assets since 1992″. And it was in the course of these operations that Longwell allegedly improperly removed asbestos-containing materials, or ACMs, from 43 apartments in a single complex in December of 2009.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), a state agency aimed at insuring the safety, health and security of Washington’s 3.2 million workers by working with employers, fined Longwell $165,400 for violating state statutes governing ACM handling, removal and disposal.
The fine is largely incurred because the state mandates asbestos removal only by certified contractors, a list of which can be found on L&I’s website. As the site further notes, if the contractor’s name is not on that list, they are not allowed to perform asbestos remediation or removal.
The list is aimed at Washington State’s real estate professionals. Longwell, current owner of five apartment complexes in King County, was – in L&I’s words – “willfully negligent and indifferent” to these regulations.
Asbestos, L&I notes, is found in buildings constructed before 1981, in such items as wall and ceiling texturing products, pipe and boiler insulation, and vinyl tiles, sheet vinyl flooring and tile mastic.
In Longwell’s case, the product was textured ceiling spray, also known as “popcorn” ceiling, and its removal – from 43 units at the Avante Apartments in Kent, and an apartment and leasing office at the Sunset apartment complex in Renton – was a clear violation of Washington State health and safety laws.
According to L&I spokesman Hector Castro, the current (Sept. 2) citation is the third time in less than a year and a half that Longwell has been tagged for failing to run asbestos tests before engaging in remodeling, hence the “willfully negligent” sobriquet.
Calling Longwell a “repeat offender”, Castro also noted that the company has appealed the most recent citation. In this appeal, Longwell President and CEO, Stanley Xu, stated that he was unaware building materials had to be tested for asbestos prior to remodeling, and that company officials were “business people, not asbestos experts”.
Asbestos, mined and widely used during most of the last century in a plethora of building and automotive products, as well as some common household items like oven gloves and ironing board covers, has been implicated as the leading cause of asbestosis, a progressive respiratory disease similar to COPD and emphysema.
It has also been cited as a cause of small cell and non-small cell lung cancers, and the only known cause of mesothelioma, a fairly rare form of cancer of the mesothelial tissues inside the human body surrounding the lungs, heart and abdominal organs that tends to lie dormant for up to 50 years before exploding into aggressive, fast-moving and highly lethal tumors.
Patients presenting with pleural mesothelioma – which is easily confused with other diseases like adenocarcinoma and viral pneumonia – are rarely identified as mesothelioma sufferers in initial medical assessments, and when correctly diagnosed are almost invariably given a prognosis of about one year to live.
Longwell, which also owns apartments in Lynnwood and Everett, has been cited for failure to abide by state asbestos regulations at four of its seven locations. The company admittedly targets deteriorating housing complexes with below-market rental rates for rehabilitation in order to guarantee “attractive returns” on said properties over a three- to five-year ownership cycle.
In the company’s defense, six other contractors in King County are also facing fines, whose total – $160,350 – results from removing ACMs, defined by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) as any material containing more than one percent asbestos.
Three of six fines were for removing popcorn ceilings. A fourth, assessed against Rainier Remediation, for a total of $140,700, was for two separate instances in which the company reportedly endangered workers by: exposing them to asbestos, falsifying asbestos surveys, and contaminating several properties via faulty asbestos removal and disposal.
One other violation, for $12,000, involved a furnace maintenance company which removed asbestos tape from furnace ducts illegally, and was later reported by the new owners
Sources: Seattle Times, Longeell Company website, Washington Dept of Labor and Industries