- ALBANY - The owner of an
asbestos removal company that handled at least two Dutchess County projects
was arrested Thursday - part of what officials called the largest criminal
investigation of that industry in the United States.
- Twelve individuals and two corporations, most of them
based in the Albany area, pleaded guilty to charges ranging from mail fraud
to violations of federal clean-air standards for removing, transporting
and disposing of asbestos during the past 10 years.
- In addition, Joseph Thorn of Rensselaer, the owner of
A+ Environmental Services, was arrested Thursday and charged with money
laundering in connection with supervising illegal abatement projects at
more than 130 sites, including the Netherwood Elementary School in Hyde
Park and at the Poughkeepsie Journal building.
- Violations 'shocking'
- He faces a possible 65-year prison sentence a $6 million
fine. He was released Thursday after posting $25,000 bail.
- ''The breadth of the criminal violations are shocking,''
said U.S. Attorney Daniel French. ''The willingness of these defendants
to place their workers and the public at risk is unconscionable. They are
criminal, they were driven by greed, their behavior was reprehensible.''
- Asbestos-removal workers at more than 200 buildings upstate
were untrained, falsified air-quality tests and neglected to file paperwork
to alert health authorities, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced Thursday
after a widespread probe into the industry.
- Federal authorities said there was no immediate concern
for public health in the buildings, which include public schools, state-office
complexes, nursing homes, banks, fire stations and private homes. But they
suggested that owners contact a certified asbestos-abatement company to
review the work.
- Asbestos has been shown to cause asbestosis, a degenerative
lung disease, and some forms of lung cancer. But Jeanne Fox, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency's regional administrator, noted that asbestos-related
diseases are generally the result of prolonged exposure to the product,
once commonly used as insulation in buildings.
- ''From what we know about these particular abatements,
we don't believe that people who lived, worked or visited the buildings
have been exposed at that level,'' Fox said.
- French said federal authorities started working with
the state on the investigation after an industry source came forward, claiming
he overheard a number of workers bragging about how their boss had purchased
their training certification.
- He said a complete list of the buildings where the work
occurred would not be available until the federal government finished contacting
owners. He said several hundred more buildings were expected to be added
to the list and said that more indictments would be handed down in coming
- The companies were charged with violations in one of
three areas of asbestos removal: the abatement itself, monitoring the site
during and after the job, and providing the appropriate training to workers.
Building owners were charged with failing to conduct asbestos inspections
of the building before starting renovation or demolition work.
- In some cases, for example, the contractor failed to
notify the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of
Labor ten days prior to the start of project, a process that gives the
government time to send inspectors.
- Other companies failed to construct adequate containment
structures to prevent the spread of asbestos around the work area or to
hire an independent air-monitoring firm to ensure safe air quality throughout
the job. French said his office was still investigating which offenses
occurred where and how serious the problem was.
- ''We don't know for sure how much of (the asbestos) they
cleaned up,'' French said. ''Everyone is concerned because we don't have
all the answers.''
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