Maryland’s new asbestos workers protection law took effect earlier this month.
The dangers of asbestos have been known for many years now, but that hasn’t stopped some unscrupulous businesses from endangering their workers by carelessly exposing them to the toxic mineral. Ironically, some of those businesses are asbestos abatement companies that are supposed to remove, contain and dispose of asbestos safely. That’s why laws like Maryland’s workers protection law are necessary.
Maryland lawmakers were reportedly moved to act following a 2011 report by the Laborers’ Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition (MAROC). According to MAROC’s Toxic Exposure report, workers in the Mid-Atlantic’s asbestos abatement industry routinely fall victim to asbestos-related violations and weak safety regulations.
As part of MAROC’s year-long study, college student Ernest Ojito worked undercover for half a dozen asbestos abatement contractors. During that time, he discovered that many of these contractors ignore licensing and training requirements and cut corners on safety to save money. He also found that some asbestos abatement training centers don’t bother to actually train asbestos workers.
Concerns about violations by asbestos abatement companies aren’t limited to the Mid-Atlantic. Here are updates on a few of the many asbestos abatement scandals we’ve reported on in recent months:
- Julie Rosati and David Harder stored trash bags filled with asbestos in a self-storage locker. Their unlicensed asbestos abatement company, which used a name similar to a well-known removal company, couldn’t afford to properly dispose of asbestos removed from schools and other public buildings.
Update: In July, the pair pled guilty to violating Massachusetts environmental laws. Harder was sentenced to 30 days in jail, although the prosecutor had argued for at least one year.
- In May, OSHA cited Aria Contracting Corp. for violating safety standards and proposed $56,000 in fines. The New York abatement company allegedly used untrained workers, failed to monitor asbestos levels, provided defective safety equipment to workers and failed to properly supervise abatement at a Buffalo work site. According to an OSHA press release, the company was given 15 days to comply with safety standards.
Update: OSHA hasn’t released any further information on the citations and whether Aria has complied. But around the same time OSHA announced the citations, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority raised eyebrows by awarding a $3.3 million contract to Aria for abatement work at a Buffalo housing project. When criticized for the decision to hire the company without taking bids and despite its history of asbestos violations, representatives for the Housing Authority claimed they faced an “emergency situation.”
- Three Tennessee men were accused of illegally handling asbestos at a Chattanooga salvage site. They used untrained workers, including homeless men, to remove the asbestos and didn’t even bother to provide protective equipment. Dust from their salvage and demolition also affected others when it drifted into neighboring properties. The men lied to federal investigators to cover up their wrongdoing. In January, a jury found the men and their company guilty of violating the Clean Air Act and obstructing justice.
Update: Earlier this month, a federal judge imposed almost $80,000 in fines and restitution. He also sentenced all three men to jail time ranging from 18 to 48 months.
- Hopefully, Maryland’s new law will help protect the state’s asbestos workers from similar misconduct. The law increases the maximum penalty for violating asbestos removal laws from $5,000 to $25,000. Money collected from these fines will go into an Asbestos Worker Protection Fund, where it will be used to strengthen the enforcement of asbestos removal laws while promoting asbestos worker safety. The law also ensures that training and accreditation requirements meet federal standards and that testing is administered by independent organizations.
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