Companies have been accused of putting profits before safety, however, proving it is often futile. Not this time. In a charge that stems from a 2011 investigation by the US Environmental Protection Agency, a man pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act asbestos work practice standards.
The man hired untrained, inexperienced workers, with one just 16-years-old, to remove asbestos from a dumpster on site at 920 Exchange Street, Rochester. The 32-year-old man is co-owner of the warehouse. The workers were offered cash to remove the asbestos, because the owner knew the container company would not take the dumpster filled with asbestos. The building, built in 1930, was undergoing renovations which involved asbestos abatement. However, the work was being conducted unlawfully and by workers who, not only were not certified to manage the work, but who did have proper personal protective equipment.
“Simply to save money, this defendant knowingly exposed untrained, temporary workers to asbestos — a highly dangerous substance long known to cause cancer,” U.S. Attorney William Hochul Jr. said in a US Dept. of Justice, Western District of New York, March 2 press release.
When inspectors were alerted to the violations, they found “over 90 bags of dry, friable asbestos inside the loading dock area,” as well as “evidence of unlawful abatement inside the warehouse involving asbestos contamination of more than 150,000 square feet.”
Exposure to asbestos can cause a debilitating lung disease called asbestosis; a rare cancer of the chest and abdominal lining called mesothelioma; and cancers of the lung, esophagus, stomach, colon, and other organs, according to the press release.
Once exposed to the toxic mineral, the person faces a life-long risk of developing mesothelioma. The terminal cancer has an extended latency period that can take decades for symptoms to present themselves. There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
Violating laws and regulations that are put in place to protect the health and safety of workers, and the public, come with harsh penalties. The man, who is scheduled to be sentenced June 1, could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
“While all of us welcome re-development in our community, it is critical to the health and safety of employees, as well as to residents living in nearby neighborhoods, that proper removal guidelines be strictly followed. This Office will continue to prosecute those who put profit ahead of people in this important area of law,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul.