Asbestos cleanup projects require workers who are certified to handle and dispose of the toxic mineral. The companies with employees who are properly trained help protect the health and safety of not only the workers, but also the general public. Unfortunately, a company in Washington may have jeopardized the health of countless innocent bystanders by blatantly abusing their certification program.
According to an Oct. 17 article in Insurance Journal, the owner of a company that offers federal training to construction companies to certify them as asbestos abatement firms pleaded guilty to handing out “bogus” certificates. Workers who did not even show up for classes received the highly regarded certifications. These certifications were handed out between 2013 and 2016.
“Asbestos is a dangerous substance, which is why state and federal authorities require those who work with it to receive annual training on how to safely handle it,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes in the Oct. 13 press release from the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, Western District of Washington. “This defendant put workers and the public at risk by selling false certifications for asbestos training. Like this defendant, those who flout our environmental laws will be held to account.”
The scheme to issue false certifications, led by the owner of the company, required workers seeking certifications without attending training to pay an additional fee beyond the fee charged for the classes. Once the payment was received, the certificates were issued.
Asbestos is a known carcinogen and is proven to cause mesothelioma, a serious cancer resulting from breathing in the asbestos fibers that then become lodged in the thin membrane that lines and encases the lungs, as well as other respiratory issues. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that there is no safe level of exposure.
Ensuring that asbestos is managed properly is critical to the health and safety of the workers and the public. Washington and federal laws strictly regulate the handling of asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos abatement companies need to be certified, and any project they undertake to clear asbestos from a site requires inspections, filing of reports, proper safety gear for employees and proper disposal of the asbestos. Without that certification too many lives are put at risk.
Under the terms of the plea agreement the government will recommend a sentence of probation, and may seek fines or other penalties, according to the press release. As a condition of his probation, the owner will have no further participation in the asbestos training business.
“I will not tolerate people who flout environmental laws to make a quick buck,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson in the press release. “My office, working with our state and federal partners, will hold accountable those who threaten the environment and public health.”
Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, and according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, there is no safe level of exposure.