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Environmental Enforcement: Feds to Pay Settlement Over Asbestos in ‘Green’ Renovation

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has settled an enforcement action against the General Services Administration (GSA) and four of its contractors for alleged asbestos-related violations that occurred during a “green” renovation project – on a building where the EPA is a tenant.

The action alleged that the GSA, Goody Clancy and Associates, ATC Associates, Suffolk Construction Company and Fleet Industrial Services violated federal Clean Air Act requirements for failing to properly remove, handle and dispose of asbestos during renovations of the John W. McCormack Post Office and Court House Building in Boston, Mass., in 2007.

Now known as the John W. McCormack Building, the 22-story Art Deco structure houses the EPA’s regional headquarters, along with offices of the federal Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, U.S. Trustees and the GSA itself.

The GSA is the government’s real estate developer and facility manager, and is the owner/operator of the building. The private companies in the settlement were architectural, construction and asbestos abatement contractors to the GSA during the time of the renovations.

The parties will collectively pay the EPA a penalty of $100,000.

A GSA fact sheet on the renovation says it was carried out with an emphasis on green practices. The building has a green roof on the fourth and fifth floors. Other environmental features include a daylight dimming system and occupancy sensors for lighting, recyled wood, use of only products low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and solar panels that power a rainwater harvesting system, which irrigates plants.

The GSA says that 86 percent of construction debris from the project was recycled on site, as part of Suffolk Construction’s waste management program.

The EPA and the Massachusetts Division of Occupational Safety discovered the alleged violations during joint inspections. Following the inspections, the EPA issued an Immediate Compliance Order requiring the GSA and the contractors to quickly remedy their actions.

The GSA and the companies quickly complied with the order, and the EPA said it is not aware of any harm to human health or the environment caused by the alleged violations.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that in the past was used regularly in the construction of buildings for its insulative and fire retardant properties.

The EPA says that intact and undisturbed asbestos-containing building materials do not usually pose a health risk but that the materials become hazardous when removed or disturbed in some way, such as during a renovation.

After being disturbed, such materials can release asbestos fibers into the air, the inhalation of which has been linked to cancer.

In December 2010 the Illinois EPA referred a building owner and its contractor to the state’s Attorney General for violations of codes surrounding asbestos handling and removal.

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