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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Ferguson Garners Guilty Pleas Over Asbestos Violations

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson

SPOKANE — Two individuals and a corporation pled guilty in Spokane County Superior Court to multiple violations of the Washington Clean Air Act. Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the criminal charges in May, over the defendants’ illegal handling of hazardous asbestos.

The case stems from renovations at the former Spokane House Hotel, where asbestos was improperly removed and disposed of without the required inspections, training, equipment or permits, putting workers and the public at risk of exposure.

As part of the plea agreement, Dayabir Bath, Gee Grewal and Bath’s company, 2013 Investors LLC, will pay a total of $115,000 in restitution.  The restitution funds will go toward asbestos education, awareness and training for workers, employers, inspectors and the public.

The court also sentenced the two individual defendants to two years of probation, during which they must comply with environmental regulations or face up to 364 days in jail.

A third man, their employee John Hickson, pled guilty in August to three counts of violating the Clean Air Act and was sentenced to 60 days in jail.

“These individuals not only endangered the environment, they put workers and innocent neighbors at risk to pad their pockets,” Ferguson said. “Asbestos-removal regulations exist for a reason: to protect us from exposure to this dangerous pollutant.”

According to the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), in 2013 and 2014, Kent-based 2013 Investors LLC performed extensive renovation work on the 89-room hotel at 4301 W. Sunset Blvd. in Spokane. Although the building contained asbestos, the owners didn’t obtain the proper asbestos surveys or city permits to do the work as required by law.

Investigators from the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency only became aware of the full extent of the renovation when one of them happened to drive by and noticed the extensive work in June of 2013. Investigators reported piles of debris likely to contain asbestos sitting out in the open air, endangering workers and neighbors.

Again in 2014, Clean Air Agency investigators spotted another debris pile, containing visible asbestos. The asbestos allegedly sat in the open air for several months, during which the area experienced high winds of over 40 miles per hour. During such winds, delicate and breakable asbestos fibers can blow freely around the neighborhood, endangering the health of those nearby.

“Any business or individual conducting demolition or renovation of a structure must do so properly to reduce risk of asbestos exposure,” said Julie Oliver, executive director of Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency. “An uncontrolled release of asbestos fibers is a health hazard proven to cause lung cancer and other illnesses.”

Bath and his company will pay $90,000 in restitution, and Grewal will pay $25,000. Half of the total — $57,500 — will go to the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, which will work with the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency to educate workers and employers about the dangers of asbestos. The remaining $57,500 will go to the Western States Project, which sponsors education and training for environmental enforcement.

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