More Asbestos Fines Levied in Florida

In Florida last week, there was yet another case in which a contractor dropped the ball, when in the course of renovations on the old Fort Walton Beach Hospital in Okaloosa County, officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) discovered no fewer than five “possible violations” related to asbestos.
Elder Care, a local non-profit corporation, was responsible for the renovation of the old hospital, which is slated to be converted into a low-cost assisted-living facility for seniors that will be named “Autumn House.” Elder Care would then manage and operate the facility. According to the Florida DEP, there was a failure to locate, identify and remove asbestos hazards as work on the project went forward. At this, point however, there is some question as to who is actually to blame–Elder Care, which is doing the actual work, or Okaloosa County, which actually owns the building. Each is pointing a finger at the other. “The building belongs to the county, so it all has to go through the county,” said Ruth Lovejoy, executive director of Elder Care.

On the other hand, Don Turner, who is the director of facility maintenance for Okaloosa County, stated, “Clearly, Elder Services is responsible for what occurred over there.” The controversy between Elder Care and Okaloosa County is understandable: at stake is liability for a fine in the amount of $33,000. Sally Cooey, a spokesperson for the Florida State DEP, said that the final determination will be made based on arguments submitted in writing by both sides. One mistake on the part of Elder Care was its failure to inform county officials of its agreement with a local contractor, who in turn failed to file a work plan with the county. As a result, county officials had no idea what was involved in the project. The asbestos hazard came to light when a whistleblower on the job got concerned about floor tiles that were being pulled up and sent a sample to a lab for tests without informing either the county or Elder Care. Lovejoy herself knew nothing about the asbestos hazard until workers failed to show up for two days, after which she was told they had been “reassigned.”