Factory owner admits exposing workers to asbestos

This blog has written repeatedly about the danger posed by asbestos in old buildings in North Carolina and elsewhere. It is tempting to assume that any asbestos product exposure in these buildings is inadvertent, the result of ignorance or carelessness. A recent plea agreement in federal court shows that this assumption is not always correct.

In 2011, an inspector from the New York State Asbestos Control Bureau received a complaint that workers in a Rochester warehouse were being exposed to asbestos fibers. On visiting the warehouse, the inspector saw a number of persons, including a 16-year old boy, working next to a large dumpster that contained “large quantities of white fibrous material.” The material was later determined to be asbestos. None of the laborers was wearing appropriate protective clothing or equipment. A second inspection by the United States Environmental Protection Agency found additional evidence of improper handling of asbestos.

The EPA commenced a criminal proceeding that terminated with the warehouse owner pleading guilty to violating the asbestos exposure standards of the Clean Air Act. The defendant also admitted that he knew that the “white fibrous material” wasbestos and that he did not provide proper protective equipment or training in safe methods of handling asbestos. The defendant faces a sentence of 15 to 21 months in prison, according to the plea agreement.

This case shows that, even though the hazards of asbestos-containing product exposure are well known, some businesses are willing to risk the health of their employees merely to save the few dollars that would be required to eliminate the threat entirely. The persons who worked in the warehouse in this case may not develop symptoms of an asbestos-related disease for many years, but the probability that some of them will get sick after inhaling asbestos fibers is extremely high. Any person who has had a similar experience with asbestos may wish to consult a physician for an examination. If the exam reveals the presence of a disease associated with asbestos, such as mesothelioma or asbestosis, a consultation with a lawyer who specializes in handling asbestos claims can provide a helpful evaluation of the case and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages for medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering.

Source: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, “Factory owner admits exposing workers to asbestos,” Gary Craig, March 2, 2016