Construction Company Forced Employees to Handle Asbestos

It’s an old story, but one that we’re hearing more and more these days–and about which more and more of us are getting justifiably angry in these days of little corporate accountability and oversight. The Florida State Department of Environmental Protection is now investigating a Naples construction firm for alleged asbestos violations that are blatantly criminal. According to numerous employees, both current and former, Posen Construction forced them to work with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) without protective gear and ordered them to dump the waste into a lake located south of a major thoroughfare between U.S. 41 and Interstate 75. Those who refused were threatened with termination.

One driver for the company said, “If we question the instructions there are plenty of people looking for truck driving jobs.” During a road-widening project in this community, located on Florida’s southwest coast opposite Fort Lauderdale, Posen workers dug up some utility pipe owned by Lee County Utilities. The pipe was covered in asbestos. Workers were ordered to cut up the asbestos pipe with saws and crush it. One worker said, “There were lots of dust particles in the air.” Employees who questioned or refused the project supervisor’s orders were subject to harassment and firing. “They’ve harassed the hell out of me,” said Posen driver Linda Darnall. “People are sick. People are being harassed. People are being fired. I am livid.”

Darnall was among those whose employment was terminated. She has since had lung x-rays and tests although symptoms may not appear for decades. The supervisor in this case was one Michael Schook, formerly of Michigan–where he is wanted by authorities for the violation of for no fewer than six environmental laws–each of which constitutes a felony. Although arrested in Florida as a fugitive, he somehow managed to gain his freedom. A month later, he was cited for “improper storm water handling” on a job and paid a $500 fine. Despite his criminal record and status, School manages to retain his job with Posen.

Meanwhile, Jim Lavender, who is public works director for Lee County, Florida, is watching carefully, stating: “We intend to watch them very carefully… I’d say they have things they have to answer for.” Despite Lavender’s tough talk, the complaints of Posen workers, and the company’s dubious environmental record, the company has managed to get yet another lucrative contract to widen a road and build a new overpass.