One of the biggest asbestos-abatement jobs ever done in Buffalo, New York, is being handled now by a local company with a history of asbestos-related violations, touching off considerable safety concerns within the city.
The national Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Aria Contracting for eight “serious” worker safety violations on another job in 2011, yet the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority still gave Aria a no-bid contract worth $3.3 million for more work.
Both the competing demolition contractors and the Housing Authority Board of Directors are raising questions now about the process. The authority also gave Aria tentative approval for yet another $5 million job, once public funds are obtained.
An exposure to asbestos can to lead to a myriad of respiratory health issues, including asbestosis and mesothelioma, a rare but highly aggressive cancer.
“I think we should definitely take a second look at this project,” Joseph Mascia, tenant representative on the Authority Board, told the Buffalo News. “If something goes wrong out there, it’s going to put the Housing Authority at risk. We’ll be held responsible.”
Aria Contracting is razing Kensington Heights, a long-ago abandoned city public housing project that had become an eyesore to the nearby community.
Aria recently came under criticism when the News reported the OSHA violations from an asbestos-abatement project at a nearby warehouse. On that previous job, Aria did not take the safety precautions to avoid exposing workers and nearby residents to airborne asbestos fibers.
According to the News, Aria safety violations included:
- Workers had not been adequately trained to work with asbestos.
- Some of those working with asbestos were using ripped and torn protective suits and not wearing the required respiratory protection gear.
- The company failed to properly monitor the airborne concentration of asbestos during the project.
- The company failed to place barriers over the openings where the work was being done to prevent the microscopic fibers from spreading, and it did not have a properly asbestos-licensed manager supervising the project.
OSHA is seeking $56,000 in fines from Aria, based on its findings.
According to other records obtained by the News, the state’s Labor Department Asbestos Control Bureau found Aria Contracting guilty of 14 code violations involving a previous asbestos-removal project. A state appeals court in 1998 rejected the company’s appeal of those violations.
An attorney for the Housing Authority issued a statement this week saying it was unaware of the OSHA findings when it awarded the latest contract to Aria. Authority officials also said it gave Aria the no-bid contract because the project was an “emergency situation,” to ensure the safety of residents who live nearby.
An attorney representing Aria said that company president James Jerge denied any violations occurred at the warehouse project, and that he will meet with OSHA officials next week before it officially contests the findings.