Asbestos Abatement Industry Gets Clear Warning from Justice Department
September 30, 2011
The message was delivered loud and clear from the United States Department of Justice to the entire asbestos abatement: Blatantly violating the laws designed to protect workers and the public from asbestos exposure will not be tolerated.
The owner of Gordon-Smith Contracting, an asbestos removal business, was sentenced to 72 months in prison and fined $300,000 for an earlier conviction on multiple counts of violating the Clean Air Act, then lying about it to inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The sentencing came 10 months after a jury in Rochester, New York, convicted Keith Gordon-Smith and his company of eight counts of knowingly violating asbestos workplace standards.
Asbestos Violations Began in 2007
The violations began in 2007 during the abatement that Gordon-Smith was doing at the Genesee Hospital Complex in Rochester. Prosecutors in the case stated that the defendant caused employees to improperly remove asbestos during the partial demolition of a building.
“Those in the asbestos removal industry are well compensated for their work, but in return are under legal obligation to perform the job correctly,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul. “When a company cuts corners, or as in this case, intentionally exposes workers and the public to harm, our Office will act quickly and decisively.”
Exposure to any amount of asbestos fibers can lead to a variety of respiratory problems, including mesothelioma, a deadly cancer with no known cure.
Workers Exposed to Asbestos
Gordon Smith had ordered workers to tear out scrap metal and copper pipes from the six-story building that contained more than 70,000 square feet of asbestos. Workers, who were not supplied with any masks or protective clothing, were repeatedly exposed to asbestos as they removed the debris. At the trial, workers testified that Gordon-Smith told them several times they were not handling asbestos, which they repeatedly took home on their work clothes, which exposed family members.
Gordon-Smith also failed to properly remove all asbestos and left behind massive amounts of the material, violating its contract while know the building was scheduled for demolition.
Inspectors found large quantities of asbestos that has been washed down pipe chases and shafts. They also found piles of asbestos in the basement that had been left behind. Gordon-Smith also made false statements to an OSHA inspector.
After inspecting the site, the EPA ordered the halt of the demolition work and evacuation of the workers until the asbestos could properly be removed. Remedial abatement cost the building owner an additional $299,000.
The EPA criminal investigators visited several other sites that Gordon-Smith Construction was handling and found similar violations, which led to multiple counts against him.
“The court’s sentence should send a strong message to asbestos abatement contractors that they will be held accountable,” said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “The Court’s sentence properly punishes Gordon-Smith and his company for the egregious crimes that placed workers and their families at risk, and for his complete disregard of the environmental laws.”