Courts Issue Lengthy Jail Sentences for Recent Violators of Asbestos Regulations


Two recent cases highlight the potential for severe civil and criminal penalties that can be imposed on property owners and contractors for not complying with state and federal asbestos regulations. After the 1970s, when the health hazards associated with asbestos exposure received significant media exposure, state and federal governments responded by enacting complicated and overlapping regulatory regimes that govern the handling and removal of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. These laws grant several state and federal agencies the ability to issue heavy fines and impose criminal liability, including potentially lengthy jail sentences, for violating these regulations.

On March 10, 2014, William T. Muzzio, Jr., a contractor in Woodbridge, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to charges related to the unlawful release of a toxic pollutant and violation of the Asbestos Control and Licensing Act. The charges originated from contracting work that Mr. Muzzio performed removing asbestos from a daycare center, where he disturbed asbestos and released hazardous dust and debris. He performed this work, as well as additional asbestos abatement work at other schools and residences, without the proper license to remove or encapsulate asbestos, as required by state law. Under the plea agreement prosecutors will recommend a seven-year prison term and restitution of $19,848.

In another recent case, on March 13, 2014, Stanley Xu, the owner of an apartment complex in Kent, Washington, pleaded guilty to knowingly exposing residents and workers to asbestos after a pipe ruptured in the building. Mr. Xu hired untrained and uncertified workers (and instructed residents themselves) to perform cleanup of debris that he knew contained asbestos, in violation of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Air Act. Mr. Xu was sentenced to fifteen months in prison, instructed to make a $75,000 community service payment, and his company was fined $159,850 and placed on five years' probation to ensure it complies with federal environmental regulations.

These cases exemplify the strict civil and criminal sanctions that follow violations of state and federal asbestos regulations. Mr. Muzzio was prosecuted for violating a state asbestos licensing act and a state law for improperly releasing toxic pollutants. Similar laws exist in many other states. Mr. Xu was prosecuted in federal court for violating the federal Clean Air Act, which applies nationwide and includes provisions on asbestos removal. Even though the actions of both of these individuals were particularly egregious, it is important for any professionals involved in asbestos removal or abatement to understand and comply with all of the relevant regulations.

A recent article authored by David M. Governo and Colin N. Holmes and published in the March-April 2014 issue of Cleaning and Restoration magazine provides an overview of the complicated federal regulations that govern the removal or disturbance of asbestos. The article is entitled "The Letter of the Law: Asbestos Regulatory Guidance for the Restoration Industry, Pt. 1" and may be viewed in PDF format here. Part 2 of the article will focus on state regulations and be published in the May issue of Cleaning and Restoration magazine. Before doing anything that involves disturbing or removing asbestos or asbestos-containing materials, seek out information applicable to the location and activity involved to ensure compliance.

To learn more about how state and federal asbestos regulations can affect you, please contact David M. Governo at [email protected] or Colin N. Holmes at [email protected].