A Florida real estate developer has been sentenced on a single misdemeanor count of negligent removal of asbestos and putting workers in imminent danger from the cancer-causing mineral.
In addition to 48 months of probation, Philip J. Farley III was ordered to pay $250,000 to fund a treatment and medical monitoring program for 90 workers who may have been exposed to asbestos during a renovation project in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2010.
The sentencing comes three years after Farley was indicted on several federal charges. Farley reportedly hired cheap labor to start a massive renovation of a 480-unit complex now called Urban Style Flats.
Workers illegally removed about 120,000 square feet of asbestos popcorn ceiling from the property before filing a complaint.
“None of the workers were trained in the proper removal of asbestos-containing materials,” the plea agreement said. “None of the workers were provided with or wore more protection than a basic paper or fiber dusk mask.”
Fiber dusk masks do not protect workers from microscopic asbestos fibers that can become airborne while scraping a textured ceiling containing the toxic mineral. Inhaling or ingesting these fibers can lead to serious health conditions years later including asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Farley Put Cost Cutting over Safety
Federal prosecutors said Farley’s primary concern when renovating the property was “his bottom line” and that he is “responsible for the consequences of those decisions.”
Urban Style Flats, which was built in the 1970s for elderly and disabled residents, is now a popular apartment complex in St. Petersburg’s trendy Edge District. Farley bought the property “as-is” in 2010 for $6.8 million and did not follow required asbestos abatement procedures during renovations.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act specifies safe work practices for the handling, removal and disposal of asbestos during renovation work.
According to the plea agreement, Farley knew of the potential asbestos dangers at the property before purchasing it. The St. Petersburg Housing Authority — the previous owner of the complex — noted the issue in the building contract.
“Due to the date of the construction of this buildings (sic) …, the possibility of the presence of Asbestos containing building materials exists,” the contract read. “In the process of our on site inspection there were no visual signs of delaminating ceilings or walls which may be asbestos containing observed … If the potential existence of asbestos is of concern an asbestos survey should be preformed by a properly Licensed Asbestos Consultant.”
Workers Improperly Disposed of Asbestos Materials
Farley did not obtain an asbestos survey of the work areas prior to starting renovations. This should have “identified the areas where renovation would have disturbed asbestos-containing materials within the complex,” according to the plea deal.
Workers were ordered to smooth out the ceilings throughout the three main buildings of the complex. The laborers scraped the asbestos popcorn ceilings, releasing large amounts of dust and debris.
The debris was then swept into wheelbarrows, trash cans and trash bags and placed in an open-top general waste dumpster at the complex.
“Defendant Farley should have known that the popcorn texture material contained asbestos, a hazardous substance,” prosecutors said. “As a result of directing the workers to smooth out the complex ceilings by removing the texture material without protective equipment, defendant Farley negligently placed the workers in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from exposure to airborne asbestos fibers.”