DEQ ramps up penalties for asbestos violations

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has levied $177,750 in penalties against 14 businesses for violating rules for the safe removal of asbestos from buildings since it introduced more stringent regulation at the start of this year.

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So far in June the DEQ has issued fines against six companies for violating asbestos regulations, the most it has imposed in a month since the new temporary regulation was implemented. The clamp down comes as demolitions of old residential buildings and new construction intensify in Portland and other areas of the state.

The regulator issued this month’s penalties against construction companies, builders, a landfill operator and a property management company. Several of the fines were imposed against companies that did not properly remove asbestos while demolishing homes.

Portland has seen a surge in demolitions of residential houses as the real estate booms drives new construction across the city. In December last year the regulator implemented more stringent rules for asbestos removal after members of the public raised concerns that construction companies were exposing the public to harmful asbestos fibers during the demolition of residential buildings. 

Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing lung disease. There is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos.

The environmental regulator put a temporary rule in place at the start of this year that requires either an owner of a residential building or a person proposing a demolition of a residential building to have an accredited inspector perform an asbestos survey before the demolition takes place. The DEQ determined that unidentified asbestos-containing materials in residential buildings may be disturbed during demolition without being subject to protective work practices.

Alumni Construction is the most recent company to be fined for asbestos violations by the DEQ. It fined the firm $17,600 for “numerous” violations for the safe removal of asbestos at a property located at 1707 S.E. Reedway St. in Portland. 

The DEQ has come under increased public pressure to ramp up its regulations to protect public health from toxins released by businesses. It is currently changing its rules for controlling industrial air emissions after harmful levels of toxic metals were found near the Bullseye Glass in southeast Portland in February. See related story here.