NY Contractors Indicted in Asbestos Case

Two men associated with a general contracting firm based in the town of Chili, New York, near Rochester, have been indicted on charges of illegal asbestos removal and lying to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

According to an article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Keith Gordon-Smith, president of Gordon-Smith Contracting, and David Vega Jr., a project manager, have been accused of exposing employees to asbestos during a demolition project at the former Genesee Hospital in nearby Rochester.

According to court records, the indictment states that Gordon-Smith, 50, and Vega, 28, both residents of Rochester, demanded employees remove copper piping and other materials from ceilings at the hospital during a project that took place last winter and spring, even though they knew asbestos was present. In addition, Gordon-Smith and Vega are accused of lying to an OSHA inspector about the incident.

Two months ago, Gordon-Smith’s company was ordered to pay $100,000 in federal fines. However, this indictment carries the potential of additional fines of $250,000 for each defendant and a maximum of five years in prison. The company faces an addition half-million dollars in fines as well, according to U.S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn of the Western District of New York.

Genesee Hospital is currently being redeveloped as a mixed-use urban center.

Man Wins $15.3 Million in Asbestos Case

A Maryland man who once spent seven years working in a shipyard was granted an award of $15.3 million by a Baltimore jury earlier this week.

According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, George J. Linkus worked at Key Highway Shipyard from 1952 to 1959. The 73-year old man was diagnosed with mesothelioma two years ago, said his lawyer David L. Palmer, and his only known link to asbestos is through his job at the shipyard.

According to Palmer, in 1954, Linkus assumed a position in the shipyard’s machine shop, where he performed various duties. As part of his job, he worked on lining valves using rope made by the defendant, John Crane Inc. The jury found that the rope used by Linkus contained asbestos, Palmer said.

The verdict in Linkus’ favor came after a three-week trial during which time the jury heard testimony about the thousands of shipyard workers who have, over the last few decades, developed asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis, pleural plaques, and deadly mesothelioma as a result of their work.

The rate of mesothelioma among individuals in various industries is highest for shipyard workers, who consistently worked with asbestos and asbestos-containing materials on the job, particularly during the peak shipbuilding years of World War II and the Korean Conflict.

Future of W.R. Grace Hinges on Unique Legal Strategy

Trying to determine the best way to emerge from bankruptcy and face the 100,000 asbestos claims forged against the company, asbestos insulation manufacturer W.R. Grace and Company is betting on a unique strategy that’s rarely been used by other companies facing staggering losses due to asbestos.

While most industrial companies have paid out billions of dollars in compensation to those harmed by exposure to asbestos, Grace is asking a bankruptcy judge to declare many of the claims filed against the company to be invalid.

According to an article in the Washington Post, in order for Grace to exit bankruptcy, “the judge must rule on what liabilities the company faces, and that means deciding how many of the claims are valid and what they might total. The judge’s decision does not resolve the individual claims, but it could set a standard for further litigation.”

“This case and this trial present the first opportunity for a federal court to set a standard on the basis of which the tens of thousands of asbestos claims that are being pursued can be resolved based upon their merit,” said David Bernick, a lawyer representing Grace who has a long history defending companies against similar lawsuits.

Experts claim that Grace is taking a great risk by using this strategy. Basically, the judge will decide whether the company emerges from bankruptcy and continues or whether control of the company shifts to the asbestos claimants.

Opposing lawyers say Grace’s move is “flawed” because it is defying a decade of tradition in which state courts with juries have settled asbestos lawsuits on a case-by-case basis.

“I don’t think anybody would dispute that a personal injury claimant would be entitled to a jury trial,” said lawyer Roger Frankel. “That’s being done away with this approach. And you can do that if you get the consent of the claimants. But you can’t do that over their objection.”

Man at Center of NY Asbestos Case Fired

The Cayuga County (NY) employee who’s been the centerpiece of an ongoing investigation alleging illegal asbestos removal was fired late last week from his job at the county’s Buildings and Grounds Department. The same day, arguments in a small claims case brought against him by the county were being heard in a local court of law.

According to an article in The Post-Standard, Chick admitted in U.S. District Court to conspiring to violate the federal Clean Air Act while supervising the removal of asbestos from the county Board of Elections building. Sentencing we’ll take place in February and Chick could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Chick, 65, of Auburn, had been on administrative leave since Dec. 26, 2006, stemming from allegations that he replaced personal tools at the county’s expense. However, the county listed eight reasons for his dismissal last week, including the asbestos issue.

• He lied on his employment application.
• He directed employees to remove asbestos and lied to them about the substance.
• He took and sold copper piping.
• He denied employees’ requests for proper equipment for asbestos removal.
• He purchases tools without the proper authority.
• He lied to county employees.
• He stated on the employment application that he had a high school diploma when he
only finished 10th grade.
• He received a check for $300 and did not turn it over to the county.

“Frankly, from the asbestos case on down, I’ve been the scapegoat for the county,” John M. Chick said after the day’s proceedings had concluded last week. “Everyone’s throwing blame at me.”

Asbestos Scare at Louisiana Hospital

The DeSoto Regional Health System in Mansfield, Louisiana didn’t follow the rules when it came to removing asbestos during a renovation, but thankfully, experts have determined that no asbestos fibers made their way into areas that could have affected patients, staff, or visitors.

According to an article in the Shreveport Times, recent test results secured by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) shows that there were no airborne fibers in a partially renovated area of the hospital; however, the DEQ has noted that DeSoto will probably be reprimanded or fined for violations of abatement procedures.

The article notes that the hospital did not follow “proper notification and removal regulations”. It is not yet clear how the situation will be handled by the DEQ. Possible reprimands include the issuance of a notice of deficiency, requiring a response from hospital officials on why they did what they did and how it can be prevented in the future. On the more severe end of the spectrum, DeSoto may receive a notice of potential penalty and compliance order.

DEQ regional manager Otis Randle will meet with hospital officials next week to determine how to proceed.

“We want them to understand what they did was contrary to the regulations and we expect them to do better next time,” Randle said, noting that he is “very satisfied” there was no major release of dangerous asbestos fibers in the hospital.

“Because I have yet to receive, much less review, the DEQ report, I really cannot comment other than to say we will do whatever is required to proceed in what is in the best interest of our patients, their families, the community, our physicians and staff,” John Domansky, DeSoto Regional’s interim CEO/CFO, told The Times.

Libby Residents Asked to Make Clean-Up Choices

The latest step in the continuing fiasco involving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the asbestos-ridden town of Libby, Montana involves a choice that residents of the embattled town were asked to make concerning what part of their town should be cleaned up next.

At last week’s meeting between EPA representatives and Libby residents, townspeople were asked to decide which area took first priority in the clean-up process- Flower Creek or Libby’s Cabinet View Country Club public golf course.

That’s a decision, say residents, they shouldn’t have to make. Senator Max Baucus, who has been campaigning for the total clean-up of Libby, agrees.

“Max believes that a public health emergency should have been declared in Libby, and wasn’t,” Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser told Missoula Independent. “He thinks a greater priority should be given to cleanup efforts to give Libby a long-term clean bill of health.”

Kaiser’s says the senator’s wrath extends to the EPA’s “whiff” at the golf course, as well. “Max thinks it’s an outrage,” Kaiser said. “Everything in Libby should be cleaned up, every house, every trail, every recreation site, and the EPA should dedicate emergency dollars to get it done.”

According to the article in the Independent, the EPA has been aware of asbestos contamination at the golf course since 2005 and acknowledges that it poses a “significant health risk” both to employees and the thousands that play there each year. Representatives for the country club note that about 15,000 rounds of golf are played there annually. So far, the golf course remains open despite the dangers.

Landowner Fined for Asbestos Mismanagement

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued a $23,704 penalty to Seven Lakes Development of Pendleton (OR), a limited liability corporation belonging to the Whitney Land Company, for alleged asbestos mismanagement at a property owned by the developer.

According to an article in the Eastern Oregonian, Tom Hack, the DEQ air quality specialist in the Pendleton area who investigated the site, said a complaint from an asbestos surveyor who was working in Pendleton alerted the DEQ to the possibility that contractor Hatley Construction was mishandling asbestos. Hack’s visit to the site prompted a report that said he found a number of violations. At that time, Hatley was fined a separate $17,000 for “conducting an asbestos-abatement project without being licensed” and for “openly accumulating improperly-labeled and packaged asbestos-containing waste material.”

Jim Whitney views the fines as unfair, especially since the DEQ had already fined contractor Hatley for the violations.

“I believe the DEQ is really overboard on what they’re trying to do with this situation … they’ve just really stretched this thing to think there was a problem when there wasn’t one,” Whitney said.

“Whitney explained that Seven Lakes hired Hatley Construction to remove residential buildings on a commercial lot,” says the article. “The buildings had asbestos siding and tile, but Whitney said residential and commercial buildings have different regulations for asbestos abatement,” it explains.

However, Bryan Smith, an environmental law specialist with the DEQ’s Office of Compliance & Enforcement in Portland, said “it would not matter if the buildings were residential in this situation. DEQ allows a homeowner to remove asbestos inside a house if the owner lives in the building. But once the owner brings the asbestos outside, or if the owner removes asbestos siding from a home’s exterior, then DEQ regulations apply.”

“It wouldn’t matter who you are if it’s on the outside of the house,” Smith affirmed.

Lawyers Say Prison Lied About Asbestos

As more information emerges in regards to a lawsuit filed by inmates against the state of Ohio and the Chillicothe Correctional Institution, an article in the Columbus Dispatch revealed that prison officials lied about the presence of asbestos in the prison’s dormitory areas.

Attorney Jeff Donnellon says his clients mailed him evidence of these untruths from behind bars, including snippings of steampipe insulation from dorm areas and samples of a powdery white substance from a dorm floor

According to a state report, prison officials told inspectors last year that there was no asbestos that could be found in housing areas of the prison, which opened more than 40 years ago in 1966.

Accusing prison officials of knowingly providing false information, a lawsuit has been filed seeking damages for inmates who might have been harmed by inhaling asbestos fibers, the article states.

“Many clients believe they have lung problems attributable to asbestos,” Donnellon said. He wants independent medical tests for his clients, he says, as the lawsuit also alleges that inmate work crews were forced to remove or work with asbestos without proper training or protection.

Even though records show that the Ohio state prison system has spent millions removing asbestos from its facilities, attorneys for the inmates and former inmates involved in the suit say they were “astonished” when prison officials denied there was asbestos in housing areas, ignoring the obvious presence of the toxic mineral.

Currently, the prison houses 2,850 inmates and has 587 staff members. Neither union nor prison officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Inmates Sue for Asbestos Exposure

Inmates at one of Ohio’s largest correctional centers are suing the state for alleged exposure to asbestos during their incarceration.

According to a story reported on WBNS-10TV, more than 30 current and former inmates at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution have filed a federal lawsuit against the State of Ohio alleging that their health was put at-risk while they served prison time.

The story quotes Gerald Smith, one of the 37 inmates that joined the suit. He said he was exposed to the asbestos on a daily basis and continues to suffer from the effects.

“I have chest pains and I cough up phlegm at times,” Smith said.

According to Smith, he routinely encountered the asbestos while working as a plumber inside the prison, reported Channel 10 correspondent Paul Aker.

“If we have a rupture in the pipe, this means the steam is blowing through the asbestos, blowing all the asbestos in the air,” Smith said.

Smith and the other inmates told Akers that they collected samples of the alleged asbestos from areas inside the prison, including floors and had them sent to a laboratory for testing via their lawyers. The samples tested positive for asbestos.

Attorney Daniel Modarski, who represents several of the plaintiffs, professed that money is not the motivation for the lawsuit.

“When we found there was actually asbestos in there, and looked at the public officials who had repeatedly said there was no asbestos in there, we felt we couldn’t just sit by and let this go,” said Mordarski. “We had to file a complaint.”

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections would not comment about the case on camera but told the news station that when they are informed about asbestos, they removed it. But Smith and his fellow inmates remain concerned.

“If we don’t address the issues today, what’s going to happen when all these problems come up for people who visit?” Smith said. “With the workers who were there? The inmates who were there?”

The amount of the lawsuit has not yet been determined but records show that a similar suit was brought before the courts in 1993 and later dismissed by the judge.

More Fines in New York Asbestos Case

In the continuing saga of illegal asbestos removal at the Cayuga County (NY) Board of Elections, yet another fine of $5,000 has been issued and county officials hope this will be the last.

According to an article in the Auburn Citizen, the Cayuga County Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee voted to pay the fee at a meeting held earlier this week rather than contesting it. This $5,000 fine was levied by the state Department of Labor. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has also fined the county over asbestos issues.

The controversy began in 2007, when the Department of Labor cited the county for four violations linked to the illegal removal of asbestos at the Board of Elections building in March 2006. “The county erred when it failed to contract a licensed asbestos removal professional, conduct air tests and properly clean the work area,” states the article.

Several individuals were questioned about the illegal removal. The supervisor of the asbestos abatement project, Mr. John Chick, has already pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Indoor Air Act. His trial was held last fall and he is currently awaiting sentencing, which is set to occur on February 20, 2008.

The article points out that payment of this last fine should signify the end of all government action in regards to the asbestos removal fiasco. However, the county government faces potential lawsuits from individuals who claim they were exposed to asbestos during the illegal abatement process and are suffering the ill effects of exposure.