Florida Contractor Pays Peanuts for Asbestos Violation

Earlier this year, we reported on a Florida contractor that forced its employees to demolish and dispose of asbestos pipe, which was then to be dumped into a nearby retention lake. Employees who did not wish to follow these illegal orders and compromise their health were threatened, harassed, intimidated, and dismissed by company management. Employee complaints ultimately led to the investigation of the contractor, Posen Construction, which is being paid $25.7 million to build a parkway near Alico, on Florida’s south Gulf Coast. Investigators from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) did indeed find asbestos both in the water and buried on the shore. According to DEP Compliance and Enforcement Manager Sherril Culliver, “There was so much debris out there it would have been impossible [not] to find.” There is no doubt that substantial quantities of asbestos waste were left behind. The question is–was it deliberate, or an oversight? According to Posen employees’ sworn depositions, it was quite deliberate. Nonetheless, Culliver insists that “…even though statements were done, trying to prove it is a little difficult.” Roy Bartlett, a project manager for Posen, claims that the asbestos dumping was completely accidental: “We didn’t exactly know, and we treated it like anything else, like plastic pipe… from the time we found out, we did the right thing.” Bartlett informed the DEP that “some disgruntled employees were involved” as an explanation for the allegations. He also suggested that some of the asbestos waste found wasn’t even from the Posen project.

Nonetheless, asbestos waste was present, a clear public health danger and due to the actions of Posen Construction. Meanwhile, the company will continue to work on the project and collect its $25 million dollars. How much will they pay in penalties? A paltry $6,500. Less than a quarter of one-tenth of a percent of that amount. According to the State of Florida, that is the maximum fine that can be assessed. In addition, Posen may wind up paying up to $12,000 for the actual cleanup–again, not even pocket change compared to what Posen is being paid for the job. According to local Public Works Director Jim Lavender, the company will be watched carefully, but his department doesn’t want to have to deal with it on a long-term basis. “The county doesn’t need or want the bad image,” he said.