If you think workplace asbestos exposure is only something that happens by accident, think again.
A property developer from Avon, New York, has admitted to knowingly exposing his workers to asbestos merely to save money. Anastasios “Taso” Kolokouris pled guilty last week to violating asbestos work practice standards outlined in the Clean Air Act.
According to U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Kolokouris instructed untrained, temporary workers to remove large quantities of asbestos from a dumpster at a warehouse in Rochester. The workers were not given proper personal protective equipment to safely handle asbestos, nor were they certified or trained to work with the toxic mineral. The dumpster itself did not even have any warning signs on or near it.
Simply to Save Money
Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig R. Gestring told WHEC Rochester that an inspector from the Asbestos Control Bureau arrived on the scene in response to a complaint and found several individuals working in the asbestos dumpster, one of whom was a 16-year-old boy. The workers soon called their employer, Kolokouris, to notify him of the inspector. Kolokouris told them to not speak to him and to leave the premises and lock the gate. However, the inspector managed to take samples of the fibrous material before leaving, and a lab later confirmed the samples to contain high levels of friable asbestos.
Investigators from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) were soon deployed to secure the area. They obtained a federal search warrant and arrived wearing full containment suits. Upon entering the warehouse, the officials discovered more than 90 bags of dry, friable asbestos inside the loading dock area.
The investigators later learned that Kolokouris promised to pay his workers in cash to remove the substance because the container company had refused to handle the dumpster while it was full of asbestos. In such occasions, property owners are required to hire professional asbestos removal teams, but Kolokouris opted to expose his workers to asbestos rather than pay the extra money to safely handle the carcinogenic mineral.
“Simply to save money, this defendant knowingly exposed untrained, temporary workers to asbestos – a highly dangerous substance long known to cause cancer,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul in a statement. “While all of us welcome redevelopment 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.”
Kolokouris faces a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Asbestos: No Safe Level
Asbestos is widely understood to cause several life-threatening diseases, including mesothelioma – a lethal cancer for which there is no known cure. The U.S. Department of Labor has stated there is “no safe level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber.”
Asbestos contamination and exposure remains a serious problem in the U.S. While distribution of the mineral has been significantly reduced in recent decades, it remains a legal substance for commercial use. Furthermore, because it was used in construction materials throughout most of the 20th century, countless buildings throughout the U.S. are likely to contain traces of the mineral and must be inspected accordingly.
People like Kolokouris represent a serious threat to public safety, and they should be prosecuted accordingly. No one should have to worry about the safety of their own workplace, especially when it comes to something as widely regulated as asbestos.
In cases like these, it’s important to remember that there are many large corporations that have been able to skirt responsibility for exposing people to asbestos simply because they have the lobbyists and budgets to back them up. Ford Motor Company, for example, used asbestos in its brake pads and linings for decades. According to a recent report by the Center for Public Integrity, Ford has spent close to $40 million since 2001 funding junk scientific studies aimed at muddling the question of safety when it comes to asbestos – all because it grew tired of being sued for exposing mechanics to asbestos. The strategy, sorry to say, worked.