Improper and unsafe handling of asbestos at a Seattle area home-flipping site put workers and neighbors at risk, and has left two business owners and their companies facing numerous citations and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines from the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).
James Thorpe, Northlake Capital & Development, 3917 Densmore LLC, and Chris Walters have each been cited for 11 willful and serious violations. In total, the fines for the four separate investigations add up to $789,200.
“These two men endangered their workers and people who live nearby this project, including children,” said Anne Soiza, L&I’s assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “On top of that, they tried to avoid responsibility by creating a legal web of confusion over who was responsible. I hope this sends a strong message that we take worker safety and public health very seriously.”
L&I opened the inspection following a complaint from an alert neighbor living near the residential renovation project on Densmore Road in Lynnwood. Several workers were improperly removing exterior asbestos tiles from the home over a weekend. When a neighbor confronted Chris Walters, the man who said he was the homeowner, Walters promised to remove the asbestos correctly. However, two neighbors took videos that showed the workers committing several violations.
An extensive investigation by L&I revealed that Walters was actually part of a complex corporate partnership created to renovate and flip the residence.
The home was initially purchased by Seattle company Northlake Capital & Development, owned by James Thorpe. Northlake is a real property company that primarily focuses on house flipping. After the purchase, Thorpe created 3917 Densmore LLC and established Walters, a Northlake employee, as the sole member of the new corporation, claiming that Walters was the homeowner, and that he intended to live in the home.
During parts of the investigation Walters and Thorpe shifted responsibility from LLC to LLC and from person to person. Eventually, L&I cited both men and the companies they oversee for the same violations. The fines vary, primarily due to the number of workers each entity was responsible for. Thorpe and Northlake each received $214,100 in fines and Walters and 3917 Densmore each receive $180,500.
The violations included using uncertified workers to remove asbestos; not using a certified asbestos supervisor; and not obtaining an asbestos good faith survey prior to beginning work. They were also cited for not using water and not keeping the shingles intact during removal (the workers were breaking the tiles with hammers); for the lack of proper personal protective equipment for workers; not monitoring the air during removal; and for not having a written accident prevention program.
Asbestos is extremely hazardous and can cause potentially fatal diseases like asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Only a certified abatement contractor that follows the specific asbestos related safety and health rules may remove and dispose of asbestos-containing building materials.
An employer has 15 business days from the time a citation is received to appeal, and each of these citations is currently under appeal.
Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.
For a copy of the citations, please contact Public Affairs at 360-902-5413.