Owners and renovators of two Washington properties were among defendants accused by the Justice Department yesterday in a nationwide crackdown to enforce federal regulations on handling cancer-causing asbestos.
Among those charged in the suits, filed simultaneously in 10 cities, were Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail), the states of Florida, Idaho and Washington and an Iowa school district. In all the suits, the government is seeking to enjoin the defendants from further violations and is seeking fines of up to $25,000 per day per violation.
Assistant Attorney General F. Henry Habicht II of the land and natural resources division said the massive enforcement action was aimed at informing the public of the "national environmental problem" of asbestos pollution and to "prompt greater voluntary compliance with the Clean Air Act."
Before a building containing asbestos -- commonly used between the 1930s and the early '70s for fireproofing and insulation -- can be demolished or renovated, the Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to be notified. Strict procedures are supposed to be followed in the removal of any asbestos to prevent the microscopic particles from being released into the air.
Courtney M. Price, assistant EPA administrator for enforcement, said she hopes the action will deter others from ignoring asbestos standards. "We have strong indications that many small business owners, and some individuals who may not think of themselves as business people, don't know or don't want to know that they're covered by the rules protecting people from asbestos exposure," she said.
Habicht said the Justice Department foresees a continuing crackdown on persons and firms who violate the EPA regulations, noting that the 11 cases filed yesterday compare with only seven such cases filed in 1984 and 18 similar cases filed last year.
Named in the suits filed yesterday in U.S. District Court here were:
Michael Jackson and Terry Austin, whose A&J Plumbing Co. of Camp Springs did renovation work at the Naylor Garden Apartments, 2806 Terrace Rd. SE, and Veteran's Cooperative Housing, owner of the complex.
Hess Mechanical Corp. of Bladensburg, which did renovation work on the Ring Building at 1200 18th St. NW, and owners Jack Friedlander, Deborah Holland and Carlyn Ring.
The defendants named in the suits here said yesterday that they were unaware of the government's action and had no comment.
According to the suits, the violations at Naylor Gardens occurred over three days last year, March 4 through 6, and violations at the Ring Building spanned two days, April 16 and 17.
At both renovation projects, the government charged that it was not informed in advance of the work, that crumbling asbestos was not kept wet during removal, that the asbestos was not disposed of properly and that there were "visible" emissions of asbestos particles.
District officials had to remove about 30 cubic yards of insulation material containing asbestos that was left in a basement room and trash containers on the Naylor Gardens grounds by workers installing a new system of pipes. City officials said then that A&J Plumbing would be billed for the cost of removing the asbestos.
Among the suits, Conrail was charged in connection with the renovation of a boilerhouse in Philadelphia. The state of Florida was sued in connection with renovation of a laundry at the Sunland Center in Tallahasee, which is operated by the Department of Health and Administrative Services. Washington was cited for renovation of the Coleman Ferry Terminal in Seattle. Idaho was sued in connection with the renovation of a boiler plant at a Boise State University housing center. In Iowa, the Ankeny Community School District was sued in connection with renovation of two schools.