Hanford contractors fined over asbestos issues

Tri-City Herald fileApril 2, 2014 

— Two Hanford contractors will pay more than $175,000 in fines after an Environmental Protection Agency investigation found alleged violations of federal asbestos handling regulations.

CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. will pay $131,594 and Washington Closure Hanford will pay $44,000 in settlement agreements reached with EPA, the federal agency reported Wednesday.

The alleged violations were discovered during an August 2012 inspection. EPA said buildings were torn down with asbestos still in siding or paint, that information provided to the Benton Clean Air Authority was inaccurate and that some asbestos waste was improperly stored.

“Asbestos was poorly managed here from start to finish,” said Ed Kowalski, director of EPA’s enforcement office in Seattle. “EPA requires all building owners and contractors to remove asbestos before starting any regulated demolition activity which can crush or pulverize asbestos and release dust.”

The penalties announced Wednesday were related to clean air regulations. The same August 2012 inspection also resulted in previously announced fines of $115,000 related to environmental cleanup regulations.

If inhaled, asbestos fibers can lodge in a person’s lungs and lead to lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of the lung, chest and abdomen. It also can cause asbestosis, a serious long-term lung disease.

CH2M Hill used heavy equipment to tear down seven industrial buildings in the 200 West Area of central Hanford, according to the signed agreement. The building exteriors had panels of transite, or cement asbestos board, that were not removed before demolition began, even though there was a high probability they would be crumbled, pulverized or reduced to powder.

CH2M Hill notified the Benton Clean Air Authority that the waste containing asbestos from the seven buildings would be taken to Basin Disposal in Pasco, but Basin Disposal was hired to haul the waste. The waste was disposed of at an Oregon landfill that accepts waste that contains asbestos, said John Pavitt, an EPA asbestos compliance inspector.

CH2M Hill also told the Benton Clean Air Authority that waste from abandoned central Hanford steam lines, which had insulation that contained asbestos, was being trucked by CH2M Hill. However, it had hired MP Environmental Services to truck the waste to a landfill, according to the agreement.

EPA tracks asbestos waste through notifications to the Benton Clean Air Authority and the errors were more than a paperwork issue, Pavitt said.

“We rely on it being accurate so we know where to go for our inspections,” he said.

Inspectors want to be able to watch when waste comes out of the trucks to make sure it is appropriately packaged and sprayed with water to keep down dust.

CH2M Hill also is accused of improper storage of waste from the steam lines.

Pavitt found one bag of the waste in a waste storage trailer that had many small tears, and the material was not being kept wet as required, he said. Further inspection by CH2M Hill found another bag in a similar condition, he said.

“We recognize the basis for this action regarding our asbestos controls and we take it very seriously,” CH2M Hill said in a statement.

During the past two years it has made improvements to asbestos procedures, including training workers and forming a working group to resolve asbestos issues. A national expert in asbestos regulation also was hired to provide training to Hanford leadership and advise CH2M Hill during work planning and execution.

Washington Closure was accused of demolishing a water tower that still had some asbestos paint.

No worker was exposed to contamination or was at risk during the demolition of the water tower or the disposal of waste from it, Washington Closure said in a statement.

“While (Washington Closure Hanford) may disagree with the legal conclusion reached in this case, what we do agree on is the importance of ensuring worker safety,” it said.

The Department of Energy began taking steps to improve worker safety on demolition work involving asbestos at Hanford two years ago when it learned of EPA concerns, DOE said in a statement. DOE also was a party to the settlement agreements, but fines will be paid by its contractors.

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