Emerson College in Boston to Pay $250K for Alleged Asbestos Violations

Emerson College and Suffolk Construction Company Inc. in Massachusetts will each pay $250,000 in civil penalties to resolve alleged violations of the state’s air pollution prevention statute and asbestos regulation, state officials announced July 6.

According to the complaint, filed with the consent judgment in Suffolk Superior Court, Emerson bought a 13-story building in Boston in 2006 and used it for student rehearsal space and leased offices. In 2007, the school hired Suffolk Construction Company to renovate the building into a student dormitory for $42 million.

Suffolk Construction then hired an engineering firm to determine whether the building contained asbestos, and that company in turn retained an asbestos consultant to do the work.

The complaint alleges that the consultant claimed it could not gain access to all areas of the building for testing, and therefore recommended that further destructive testing for asbestos be done as soon as access could be obtained.

The complaint asserts that both Suffolk and Emerson received this report, but failed to conduct further testing before demolition and renovation activities started at the building.

The parties agreed to settle the case, and the defendants deny all allegations of wrongdoing.

“A full building survey and materials test is required before conducting any building demolition, renovation or re-construction that may impact asbestos-containing materials,” said Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

“The information generated by the survey protects against improper removal, handling and disposal of asbestos-containing materials. This survey was not done here, and this put at risk workers, tenants, and the general public.”

Because proper and timely asbestos and demolition notices allegedly had not been provided to MassDEP, the agency first inspected the site after most of the demolition and removal had been completed.

MassDEP found asbestos-containing materials throughout the building, including a brand of lightweight wall block insulation called Mac-ite, which contained asbestos and which had been heavily damaged during renovation. The Mac-ite had been missed during the initial asbestos assessment and had not been identified as an asbestos-containing material.

The complaint alleges that because demolition proceeded without proper asbestos containment measures, the demolition materials removed from the building were contaminated with asbestos, and that the public may have been exposed.

Due to contamination with asbestos, the demolition materials should have been sent to a licensed asbestos landfill, but instead about 80 percent of the material appears to have been sent to recycling facilities where it may have caused exposure to workers.

After discovering the scope of the alleged violations, MassDEP required that demolition and renovation activities at the building be halted until a proper survey was conducted and a plan for asbestos decontamination was approved. Asbestos abatement was then conducted to MassDEP’s satisfaction in order to protect the public health.

As part of the court’s final judgment, Emerson College is required to prepare and put into effect an operations and maintenance plan for the building that is designed to avoid future releases of asbestos to the environment if the building is renovated or repaired.

Source: The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office