Five years after residents in Alexandria’s largest affordable-housing complex were exposed to asbestos during renovations, the contractor hired to deal with the problem has pleaded guilty to violating the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Paul Potter, 76, acknowledged in Alexandria federal court that when performing asbestos removal at Old Town’s two Hunting Point towers in 2014 he did not hire accredited workers or have a trained supervisor on site.
Defense attorney Cary Greenberg said Potter believed he could remove asbestos-laden windows without actually disturbing the hazardous material.
“Mr. Potter’s intention was to remove the windows appropriately,” Greenberg said. “But ultimately he was unsuccessful and was not in compliance.”
Hunting Point’s 525 apartments were owned by the Virginia Department of Transportation until 2013, when the buildings were sold to a Chicago-based real estate developer called the Laramar Group. In 2011, a VDOT study found asbestos in some of the vinyl floor tiles and mastic, exterior door caulk, exterior window caulk, and interior and exterior window glaze. In early 2014, Laramar had begun renovating and hired Potter’s company, Chelsea Environmental, to remove the asbestos for $314,400.
Potter told his workers to remove the apartment buildings’ window frames intact so the asbestos would not break into smaller pieces and become airborne. But the scrapers they used on the window frames did disturb the caulk and glaze, and Potter acknowledged in court filings that he did not tell his workers to take any measures to keep asbestos from getting into the air.
Debris and dust fell into tenants’ apartments, according to prosecutors, and into outside common areas.
Tenants complained to the Environmental Protection Agency, and inspectors over several visits found asbestos debris and saw that workers were not following safety precautions, according to the filings. Work was halted in April 2014, three months after Potter’s team began.
Testing estimated that the concentration of asbestos in the debris would not cause “an immediate public health concern,” according to prosecutors, but they said it is “difficult to say there is no long term risk from exposure to low levels of asbestos that might remain in the building.”
The Laramar Group claimed in 2014 to have learned of the asbestos only when the EPA ordered Chelsea Environmental to stop work. But according to the court filings, the company had provided VDOT’s asbestos survey to Potter in 2013 and hired him specifically to deal with the problem.
Laramar, which did not return a request for comment, still owns the apartments. The complex is now called Bridgeyard Old Town.