District Attorney John T. Savrnoch announced that the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit reached a settlement with U-Haul Co. of California (UHCA) to resolve alleged civil violations stemming from UHCA’s failure to properly handle asbestos-containing material during renovations at UHCA’s Santa Maria storage warehouse.
The People’s Complaint alleged that in the Fall of 2019, UHCA employees used demolition equipment to remove flooring from the approximately 20,000-square-foot warehouse. A concerned citizen observed the activity, which he described as “asbestos-type work,” and reported it to the Santa Barbara County Certified Unified Program Agency (CUPA).
CUPA personnel, along with inspectors from the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (APCD), visited the warehouse and observed broken floor tiles and debris in an uncovered, forty-yard dumpster outside the facility. Inside, CUPA and APCD found that UHCA had removed most of the interior flooring, which consisted of ceramic and vinyl tiles, and mastic glue that held the tiles in place.
APCD tested the materials and found that the vinyl tiles and mastic glue contained asbestos. Although the facility was built in the 1970s, UHCA did not conduct any asbestos surveys prior to removing the tiles. As a result, UHCA failed to take required safety precautions for asbestos work, including using appropriate safety gear and removal methods and posting signage warning employees and the public about the work being conducted and the asbestos-containing materials being placed in the uncovered dumpster.
In addition, the People’s Complaint further alleged that UHCA improperly disposed of over 32,200 pounds of debris, including the vinyl tiles and mastic glue, at a facility not authorized to handle asbestos-containing material, which is characterized as hazardous waste.
UHCA will pay $1.123 million in civil penalties and investigative costs to settle the violations alleged. Of that amount, $111,595 will fund supplemental environmental projects (SEPs), specifically in the Santa Maria community where the violations occurred. SEP funding is being directed towards organizations that: provide youth from low-income families with outdoor educational opportunities; restore community parks; and provide grants to community members for projects that enhance the environment in and directly outside of Santa Maria.
District Attorney Savrnoch said: “The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office is committed to prosecuting violations of California’s environmental laws. These laws protect the health of employees and the public and they also protect the environment from harmful substances such as asbestos. As this case demonstrates, enforcing these laws is critical to ensuring that those who work and live in our community can do so in a healthy environment.”