Asbestos Disposal Violator in Massachusetts Learns the Hard Way
A Framington, Massachusetts company now owes almost $50,000 in fines after attempting to dispose of asbestos-laden building materials improperly.
Laborers from SMBG, a construction firm, tore out the interior of a multi-unit apartment building in Southbridge and hauled the building materials to an asbestos waste facility in Walpole, reported the Worcester Business Journal.
It was discovered that the demolition was executed without first notifying the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is required by federal law when materials contain deadly asbestos. The naturally-mined mineral, long known for its fireproofing properties, is proven to cause cancer to those exposed to it.
Workers also failed to use air filtration during the demolition and loaded the lethal materials in containers that could leak the deadly asbestos strands into the air.
“Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and following required work practices is imperative to protect workers as well as the general public,” said the director of the DEP’s regional office in Worcester, Mary Jude Pigsley.
Asbestos Disposal Fines Levied on Other U.S. Companies
SMBG adds to a long list of asbestos disposal violators through the years in the U.S.
The East Coast company’s fine appears minimal when compared to a Detroit contractor cited with an almost $300,000 fine in 2015. Crain’s Detroit Business reported that the firm, DMC Consultants, Inc., allegedly violated worker safety by endangering them when disposing of asbestos from two different construction sites.
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) handed down 14 different violations to the company.
The violations included the following offenses:
- Failure to monitor exposure during asbestos removal
- Failure to use proper hazard control methods
- Failure to provide respiratory protection or protective clothing
- Did not offer a decontamination area for workers and equipment
- Improper notification to MIOSHA despite knowing of asbestos’ presence
Even more extreme, a judge issued to a Seattle man a 30-day jail sentence in addition to a $50,000 fine for improper asbestos removal in 2011.
The Washington car dealer, 73, admitted in court that he ignored a notice that asbestos in the building he owned needed to be removed safely prior to demolition. Instead, he hired two workers untrained in asbestos abatement to tear down the building without taking any precautions.
U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said he was sending “a message to the public that environmental crimes will result in jail time.”
EPA Seeks to Protect Workers with Asbestos Handling Guidelines
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires stringent procedures for asbestos removal in the U.S., recognizing the danger for workers and the public in handling the material that causes the fatal disease mesothelioma.
This cancer, that infects the interior lining of the lungs, can leave its victims dead in two years or less. It begins when a person unwittingly inhales air containing microscopic asbestos fibers that float in the atmosphere when released from a material that contains them.
Once ingested, the carcinogenic fibers lodge in the lungs and can eventually cause cancer. This can take from 20-50 years to manifest in a person.
Protocol for persons or companies engaging in renovating or demolishing buildings that contain asbestos-filled materials involves alerting the proper authorities — and then preventing the deadly substance from escaping into the air.
The first step is to notify the appropriate delegated entity of asbestos removal, which is often a state agency like the DEP in Massachusetts and MIOSHA in Michigan.
Second, companies must follow EPA work practice standards for controlling asbestos emissions.
EPA asbestos control standards include:
- Removing all asbestos-containing materials
- Adequately whetting all regulated asbestos-containing materials
- Sealing the material in leak-tight containers
- Disposing of the material as expediently as practicable
In the Seattle case, the car dealer now ranks as a felon as a result of his violation of the Clean Air Act.
“Asbestos is a silent killer. It has taken many lives and destroyed families. We know its dangers and have environmental regulations such as the Clean Air Act to protect us all,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan who prosecuted the case.
Federal law on the issue exists to make contractors take asbestos removal and disposal seriously. Past EPA citation history shows that cutting costs by cutting corners often results in paying more in the end in asbestos-related fines — and, in the Seattle man’s case, paying with his time and reputation.