Two private citizens and a corporation pled guilty on Oct. 20 in Spokane, WA County Superior Court for several violations of the Washington Clean Air Act. The Attorney General for Washington, Bob Ferguson, filed the criminal charges last spring due to the defendants’ actions in how they handled asbestos at a job site.

The asbestos case stemmed from renovations they were doing at the Spokane House Hotel, where asbestos was taken out improperly and was dumped without the mandated inspections, equipment, training or permits. Workers and the general public were put at risk.

As part of a plea agreement, the company 2013 Investors LLC will have to pay $115,000 in restitution to the county. The funds will be put into a fund for asbestos awareness and education training for workers and employees.

The court also delivered a sentence of two years of probation for the two people, and they have to comply with all environmental regulations or they will face a year in jail each.

What Is Asbestosis?

There are many very dangerous and deadly asbestos-related diseases that affect human health. One of them is mesothelioma, a very deadly lung cancer that is very painful and nearly always terminal. However, there are other lung diseases that are caused by asbestos exposure.

One of them is asbestosis. It is a chronic condition that is caused also by breathing in asbestos particles. The lung tissue gets scarred and damaged over time, and this makes it hard to breathe. Most asbestosis conditions are caused by chrysotile asbestos, which is one of the six types of asbestos that has been used in industrial and building applications for decades in the past.

Asbestosis is not cancer, but nonetheless, it is a very serious disease that can be fatal, and it also can lead to many other serious conditions. Symptoms of asbestosis are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry crackling sound when inhaling
  • Decreased endurance when engaging in physical activity
  • Chest pain
  • Fibrosis in the lower parts of the lungs
  • Swelling in face and neck
  • Loss of weight and poor appetite
  • Bloody sputum

Also, the lowered lung function leads to other health problems. For example, the heart must pump faster and harder, which leads to higher heart stress and high blood pressure. It is very common for asbestosis sufferers to die from heart failure and not from the lung problem itself.

Another man, an employee named John Hickson, pled guilty last summer to three counts in violation of the Clean Air Act. He was put in jail for 60 days.

According to the state AG, all of the individuals in the case were endangering the environment and they put many workers and neighbors at risk to make money. He also noted that asbestos-removal regulations exists to protect the public from a very dangerous pollutant.

According to the legal case documents, the company 2013 Investors LLC did major renovation work on the hotel that is at 4301 West Sunset Blvd. in Spokane. It was known by all parties that the building had asbestos in it, but the owners never got asbestos surveys or the city surveys to do the work as the law required.

The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency only knew about the renovation because one of the people from the office drove by and noticed the work in June 2013. Investigators looked at the debris piles and determined that they contained large amounts of asbestos and they were sitting in the open air.

In 2014, the Clean Air Agency also discovered another pile of debris that contained  visible asbestos. The asbestos was alleged to have sat in the open for a few months, and the area experienced some high winds that were more than 40 MPH. During winds that are that strong, asbestos fibers can easily blow around the area and endanger the health of the neighborhood.

According to the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, any business that does any demolition or renovation of an older building that contains asbestos must do it properly to eliminate the risk of asbestos exposure. Uncontrolled release of large amounts of asbestos fibers is a major health hazard that can cause mesothelioma and other serious lung diseases.

The individuals involved and the company must pay $90,000 in restitution and the other man has to pay $25,000. At least $57,000 will go into the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, and this group will work with the Spokane Regional Clean Air AGency to better educate workers and companies about the many dangers of asbestos.

The AG for Washington State has made prosecuting the environmental crimes of companies that work with asbestos a top priority of his office. Since 2013, he has brought many environmental prosecutions that led to 19 criminal convictions, and several of them involved asbestos removal.