Asbestos News: Contractors Face Federal Charges in School Asbestos Scandal

by Sokolove Law

A component of thousands of building products, asbestos can be found in homes, churches, schools, and other buildings throughout the United States. Demolition or renovations may cause asbestos fibers to be released into the air, endangering workers, their families, and the public. Asbestos exposure can lead to deadly diseases including mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that attacks the lining around the internal organs.

The Clean Air Act of 1970, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) regulations require testing to determine the presence of asbestos-containing materials before renovations begin; strict controls to avoid contamination of the air, soil, buildings, or worksite; and proper worker training and protections.

A recent case from Bay City, Michigan, illustrates how one contractor disregarded the law –– even when renovating buildings intended for schoolchildren.

Michigan Contractor Pleads Guilty to Perjury in Asbestos Investigation; 2 Others Face Federal Charges

Bay City Academy, a charter school for 500 children from kindergarten through grade 9, purchased a former church to use as a school building in Bay City, Michigan. A contracting firm, Lasting Impressions, was hired to conduct the renovations, but authorities became suspicious of practices at the site. Federal prosecutors convened a grand jury to discover whether the owner and employees of Lasting Impressions knowingly violated EPA and OSHA regulations for asbestos safety during renovations at the school.

Mlive reported that Rodolfo Rodriguez, a carpenter experienced in renovations, pleaded guilty to perjury on February 11.  Rodriguez falsely testified to the grand jury that he had only removed 10 or 20 feet of asbestos pipe insulation by his own choice. He later admitted that his site supervisor had instructed him to “gut the place,” and that he then removed 200 feet of asbestos pipe insulation and disposed of it improperly. Mr. Rodriguez accepted a plea bargain, and faces up to 21 months in jail and $30,000 in fines, rather than face a jury trial. His sentencing is scheduled for June 29.

Roy Bradley, Sr., who owned the construction firm, and Gerald Essex, supervisor for the renovation project, each face 4 counts of improper removal and handling of asbestos, violating the Clean Air Act. These federal felony charges carry up to $250,000 in fines, and up to 5 years in prison. Their trial is scheduled for April 29.

Randall Ashe of the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division said in a statement concerning the case, “There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.”  U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade was quoted in Capitol News Service as saying, “Illegal handling of asbestos can contaminate the air and harm our quality of life. We hope that cases like this one will deter these environmental crimes.”

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