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Kent apartment complex owner sentenced to prison for violating Clean Air Act
For the Reporter
The owner of a Kent apartment complex and his company, were sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle for violating the Clean Air Act by exposing residents and workers to airborne asbestos, U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan announced.
Stanley Xu, 53, was sentenced to 15 months in prison, 90 days of home confinement and ordered to make a $75,000 community service payment to the National Environmental Education Foundation.
XU's business, Longwell Company, was fined $159,850 and placed on five years of probation to ensure it complies with all environmental regulations. The defendants pleaded guilty in October 2013 for failing to protect residents of the Avante Apartments in Kent from asbestos exposure following a pipe rupture in December 2009.
According to case records, XU knew the ceiling material that rained into the apartments contained asbestos, but still hired a clean-up contractor who took no steps to protect the apartment residents or workers hired to clean up and dispose of the hazardous waste.
At sentencing U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly said this case concerned him "because of the terrible risks posed to people exposed to asbestos.
"Asbestos has killed scores of people in our country and the rules are meant to protect against its dangers. Mr. Xu and his company were well aware of the regulations surrounding clean-up and disposal of asbestos contamination, and chose instead to put his tenants and workers at risk.
"Not only had Xu and his company been cited by the state before, he had obtained bids from qualified asbestos contractors; but to put money in his pocket, he instead hired someone on the cheap. Now he pays a hefty price."
According to records filed in the case, in 2006 the Environmental Protection Agency filed complaints against XU for lead paint contamination at another apartment complex he owns. In 2007, he was cited by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries for failing to do an asbestos survey before construction work at another complex.
At a hearing in November 2009, XU stated he understood the code and that popcorn ceiling material contains asbestos. Despite those statements, less than a month later when the pipes burst, he took no steps to ensure the asbestos material that fell into the apartments was disposed of properly. In fact, after XU's guilty plea in October 2013, he again failed to protect tenants and workers from airborne asbestos during another apartment repair project.
"Defendant Xu obstructed a federal investigation, potentially exposed workers and dozens of his tenants, including young families, to harmful asbestos fibers and repeatedly failed to follow the law," said Tyler Amon, Special Agent in Charge with EPA's Criminal Investigation Division. "Because there's no safe level of asbestos exposure, business owners who knowingly put others at risk should expect tenacious prosecution."
In asking that XU be sentenced to a prison term, prosecutors explained how the apartment residents were put at risk.
"These tenants included families with young children, pregnant mothers, minorities, and low-income individuals. According to interviews, many of the tenants were specifically told that they were required to clean this asbestos-containing debris from their belongings. The tenants spent long hours – with their children in tow – over the course of several weeks cleaning and literally shaking this debris from their items. The apartments, although initially damp, quickly dried out, creating a dusty environment inside. Several tenants reported that they or their children, some of whom already had asthma, experienced difficulty breathing during this time. They did all of this never knowing that this "dust" in their apartments likely contained asbestos fibers," prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
The community service payment in this case goes to the National Environmental Education Foundation, a Congressionally mandated foundation established and dedicated to advancing environmental education.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kathryn K. Frierson and Special Assistant United States Attorney Karla G. Perrin with the EPA.