PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed Tuesday that asbestos was found in a SW Portland apartment complex and cited Tandem Property Management for 9 serious violations.  

Tandem and the property, Commons at Sylvan Highlands, have been the subject of lawsuits from former employees and residents alleging that executives knew about asbestos and moved forward with construction projects, putting workers and tenants at risk. 

Exposure to asbestos, which was once commonly used in building materials, is known to cause cancer. Tests showed that there were building materials on-site at Commons at Sylvan Highlands containing 5% asbestos. 

OSHA documents, obtained through a public records request, show that Tandem has been ordered to pay a penalty of $12,250 for the 9 violations, which were all deemed “serious.” Those violations include not monitoring to determine employee exposure to asbestos-containing materials, not using appropriate vacuums to clean up asbestos, not preparing employees with respirators or protective clothing, and not training construction workers on how to properly deal with asbestos. 

OSHA spokesperson Aaron Corvin said the agency will be working to change Tandem’s behavior and achieve compliance with the laws. He said the penalty of $12,250 should not be interpreted as little more than a slap on the wrist. 

“One thing to consider is each of the violations has been marked as ‘serious.’ That’s high level – we categorize violations as ‘serious’ or ‘other than serious,’” Corvin said. 

He explained that “serious” violations mean that the actions have potential to cause serious physical harm or death. 

Another employee joins asbestos lawsuit against Tandem

OSHA did not, however, determine that the violations had reached the threshold necessary to be considered “willful” violations, which indicate the agency believes the employer intentionally or knowingly allowed a violation to occur. 

“If we’re talking about willful, we have to prove it,” Corvin said. He said that Tandem executives said they believed they had taken appropriate action to test and mitigate asbestos, though that was later found not to be the case. 

After OSHA arrived at Commons at Sylvan Highlands to conduct its investigation, Tandem president Thomas Clarey told the compliance officers that he was “confident that the area had been tested for asbestos content during the previous [construction] work.” 

He said that asbestos had been abated by a local firm, and that an additional survey had been completed by a Seattle environmental consulting group. OSHA compliance officers asked Clarey and another executive, Tonya Tiedemann, to send over copies of those tests and survey work. 

According to OSHA’s narrative, Tiedemann “later emailed the [health compliance officers] to inform them that the company could not locate the surveys, and no information regarding asbestos testing conducted by the employer, would be provided.” 

OSHA has referred the case to Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality because employees alleged during the investigation that materials containing asbestos were transferred to a disposal site away from Commons at Sylvan Highlands. 

“[This] action relates to possible violation of environmental laws,” the narrative states. 

DEQ’s investigation is still open; as such, no information is available regarding the findings. 

KOIN 6 has reached out to Tandem Property Management for comment on the OSHA violations. Tandem Property Management has not responded to KOIN 6’s repeated requests for interviews related to these allegations.