Tuesday, November 18, 2008

County assessor pays $5,000 fine for improperly removing asbestos

Contra Costa's assessor paid a $5,000 fine to the region's air quality district for improperly demolishing a Bay Point house after repeatedly ignoring warnings that it contained asbestos, according to reports.

The elec-ted official violated numerous Bay Area Air Quality Management District regulations: late notice of demolition; asbestos wasn't removed before demolition; no survey was conducted; asbestos was discovered after demolition; waste wasn't contained properly; and no waste records were kept, officials say.

Although he paid the fine and declined to appeal the decision, Gus Kramer said the district erred in its report and that it makes demolition too difficult for the average person.

"The way I was treated by the air board was one more reason people hate government," he said. "My advice to the public is to never tear down a home. Let some demolition contractor do it who probably has some relationship with the air (expletive)."

A base fine for improper asbestos removal is $1,000, said district spokeswoman Jennifer Alverson.

"We take all violations very seriously, and we all know the health effects of asbestos," Alverson said of the cancer-causing fiber. "It sounds like things were done improperly from the beginning. If he had used a certified asbestos remover, a lot of problems could have been avoided."

The violations date to January 2006 when Kramer decided to demolish a vacant house he owned on Bella Vista Avenue Advertisementafter it was torched and had become a dumping ground and eyesore, the assessor said.

A friend had gutted the house to its studs in 1992, so, Kramer said, he knew the house was asbestos free.

Kramer filled out the demolition paperwork, but his contractors failed to wait 10 days for an air district asbestos survey, according to the inspector's report obtained through a public records request by the Times.

An air district inspector first contacted the demolition team Jan. 30, 2006, a few days after the house was leveled, and told the contractor the tear-down was premature. A few days later, tests of materials found at the site showed asbestos, according to the report.

The inspector alerted the demolition team and Allied Waste, which had provided a trash bin at the site, that asbestos had been found. An Allied Waste representative called the inspector and said: "I'll call (Kramer) and tell him. He's probably going to lose it when I tell him," according to the report. "We won't do anything with it. We know we're not supposed to handle asbestos," the representative told the inspector.

The next day the inspector told Kramer he needed a certified asbestos contractor to clean up the property and trash bin. He also was told that the waste would need to go to an asbestos-certified landfill with proper documentation. Kramer insisted there was no asbestos on the property.

"You have no proof the debris in the Dumpster is contaminated with asbestos. I used to be a cop. I know you need proof," Kramer told the inspector, according to the report.

Kramer says he only told the inspector he used to work for the sheriff's office. The assessor once was a coroner's department aide.

On a follow-up visit weeks later, the inspector found the trash bin and its material gone. An Allied Waste representative told her: "We couldn't wait," according to the report.

The investigator in October talked to Brad Bonner, West Region Industrial Waste sales manager, who oversees 20 landfills. Bonner told the inspector the waste went to Forward Landfill in Manteca, an Allied Waste operation that takes asbestos. He said he met with Kramer at the Bay Point demolition site.

"I saw the contents of the bin and there was no asbestos in the bin," Bonner said. "We erred on the conservative side and took it out to Forward Landfill."

Bonner said no hazardous waste was transferred, because even if there were asbestos, it was not easily crumbled.

"We found asbestos that was friable," Alverson countered. "Each sample crumbled with finger pressure.

"If we have knowledge of friable asbestos in a Dumpster, we alert (the garbage service), but they are not in our jurisdiction," she said. "So, they can do what they want with it, but it's in their best interest to listen to our warnings."

Kramer maintains that any asbestos found at the site was dumped there.

When asked if the county assessor received favored treatment, the garbage company executive who expedited the transfer said no.

"There was no special treatment. We deal with a lot of different individuals. Our job is to help people out. Ultimately, it's the generator's responsibility to characterize his waste," Bonner said.

Kramer said he asked for no special favors.

"I don't even know all these people they are talking about. The contractor hired Allied Waste. I didn't," he said.

"In hindsight, would I demolish a house again? No," Kramer said. "It's almost impossible for the Average Joe to do it."

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