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Release Date: 3/14/2000
Contact Information: Bonnie Smith (215) 814-5543

Bonnie Smith, 215-814-5543

PHILADELPHIA - Thomas Chau of Philadelphia pleaded guilty today to six felony counts related to a July 1997 asbestos removal project at a former Philadelphia public school building located at 1800 S. 16th Street. Chau was also charged and pled guilty to an obstruction of justice charge which was filed after Chau told a witness in the case to testify falsely at trial.

Chau faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1.5 million dollars.

"This case demonstrates EPA’s conviction that polluters cannot be allowed to place public health at risk. We will aggressively pursue polluters who expose the public to harm," said Bradley M. Campbell, regional adminstrator.

Chau admitted to knowingly violating Clean Air Act asbestos regulations and making a false statement to an EPA official in connection with converting the building into a nursing home. According to the government, Chau directed that asbestos pipe wrap and other asbestos-containing materials be ripped and stripped from the building, without first being adequately wetted, thereby causing airborne releases of asbestos.

When confronted by the EPA and City of Philadelphia environmental officials, Chau was told to stop the illegal removal of asbestos. After officials left the scene, Chau continued to rip and strip asbestos and then dumped it in various illegal locations throughout the City of Philadelphia. Asbestos remained in the building until EPA conducted an emergency removal at the school and at a dump site in 1998. The school building is currently vacant and unused.

Asbestos is a hazardous air pollutant that was once heavily used in insulation and other building materials. Exposure and inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause cancer and asbestosis, a serious respiratory disease.

To reduce the risk of asbestos emissions, EPA’s regulations require that asbestos-containing materials that may release asbestos fibers during demolition or renovation be adequately wetted during removal. These materials must remain adequately wetted, or be securely bagged or otherwise treated to minimize asbestos emissions until proper disposal. 

This case was investigated by EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, the FBI, the City of Philadelphia Department of Health, and the Philadelphia Environmental Crimes Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, with assistance from EPA Region III’s Office of Regional Counsel.