Too many times we have to report on contractors who cut corners during renovation and demolition projects. These short cuts invariably lead to dangerous health risks for workers and innocent residents. In another case of disregard for the law, a contractor in Illinois is awaiting his sentencing hearing after being charged with violating the clean air act and making false statements related to asbestos removal.
According to a June 20 article in the Great Lakes Echo, a contractor working on a Springfield project, hired an untrained worker to strip asbestos-containing insulation from pipes in a vacant facility. In addition, the worker was paid “substantially less than a trained asbestos abatement contractor would have charged,” according to the article. The work was conducted between Oct. 1, 2014 and Aug. 31, 2015.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declared that asbestos is a carcinogen and reports that there is no safe level of exposure. Inhalation of asbestos fibers has been shown to cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and other serious respiratory diseases. It can take between 15 and 60 years after exposure to asbestos before an asbestos-related disease is diagnosed. Anyone exposed faces a life-long health risk. Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.
Congress established the Clean Air Act to protect the U.S. publics’ health from air pollution and environmental hazards, and it contains specific provisions to address hazardous or toxic air pollutants, such as asbestos. Businesses and individuals must adhere to specific federal, state and local guidelines and regulations during construction projects to ensure safe removal of the dangerous materials. One of the primary requirements is that certified asbestos contractors must manage the removal of asbestos and asbestos-containing products.
“The asbestos debris was stuffed into approximately 300 garbage bags and at least two open-topped cardboard boxes, and left inside vacant buildings at the facility,” according to a May 10 press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of Illinois. In addition, there was more than 1,000 linear feet of asbestos pipe insulation remaining inside the structure when the building was demolished.”
The charges, as listed in the press release, include four violations of the Clean Air Act and the federal asbestos regulations:
- Failure to have at least one on-site representative, trained in federal asbestos regulations, present during the removal of regulated asbestos-containing material;
- Failure to adequately wet all regulated asbestos-containing material and ensure that it remained wet until collected and contained or treated in preparation for disposal;
- Failure to remove all regulated asbestos-containing material from a building before beginning any activity that would break-up, dislodge or similarly disturb regulated asbestos-containing material;
- Failure to deposit all asbestos-containing waste material as soon as was practical at a waste disposal site operated in accordance with the federal asbestos regulations.
The contractor is facing a maximum of five years in prison and a term of supervised release of up to three years following any term of imprisonment, as well as a fine of up to $250,000, according to the US Attorney’s Office.