A Queens, New York co-op apartment building is embroiled in a conflict that involves not only residents but contractors, two of whom are charged with acting in tandem in direct violation of conflict-of-interest regulations regarding an asbestos abatement project.
It all started in 2006, as the result of Queens, New York regulations which require that an independent air testing company monitor all asbestos abatements.
In November, the co-op board of Bell Park Gardens hired Asbestways Service Corporation to evaluate the project. Asbestways turned in a bid of $1.8 million. Two months later, the price unexpectedly fell to $1.6 million, a savings Anthony Doloroso, Bell Park Garden’s property manager, ascribes to a reassessment of the materials involved.
In the spring of 2007, Bell Park Gardens entered into a contract with Asbestways. Asbestways almost immediately assigned the contract to Safety Lead Services (SLS), a subsidiary company. Asbestways also helped the co-op find an independent air testing company, called Communication Gear Inc.
A subsequent investigation conducted by Asbestos Lead and Hazardous
Waste Laborers’ Local 78 (New York City and Long Island) found that the two companies, Asbestways and Communication Gear, were owned by a father and son team.
Recognizing that this represented an obvious conflict of interest, Local 78 protested the contract. Doloroso defended his (and the board’s) actions by stating that no one was aware of the relationship, and adds that the board “immediately changed course” once the conflict of interest was revealed.
Residents like Fabio Morales say differently, noting that it was another 18 months before the board voided the contract and sought other asbestos remediation experts. Even then, it wasn’t until residents “raised a stink” that the board made the move.
In the meantime, a reporter at the Queens Tribune has been working with Bell Park Garden residents to uncover shoddy workmanship, incomplete remediation, and a situation that leaves residents in danger of contracting one of many illnesses caused by asbestos particles: lung cancer, cancer of the pharynx, cancer of the esophagus, stomach cancer, colon cancer, cancer of the rectum, asbestosis and mesothelioma.
The latter, a disease that results from lung lesions triggered by asbestos particles, can take up to five decades to manifest and is usually fatal.
Doloroso and the Bell Park Garden board continue to maintain that everything is up to par in the building, but handfuls of ashy, gray fibers lying loose on pipes and in crawl spaces say otherwise. Documents obtained by the Tribune show a maze of conflicting agreements, each amended as the work progressed. Residents also charge that the new contractor, Sunshine Environment Inc., is affiliated with Asbestways.
The cost of remediation has since ballooned to $3.1 million, but the real bone of contention between residents and contractors – and, by extension, the board – is the shoddy workmanship, which reveals asbestos remediation on one heating pipe but none at all on a pipe immediately adjacent. Residents also charge the firms with dangerous removal practices.
“I woke up one morning and there were guys carrying the stuff out in wheel barrows, leaving white footprints and a cloud of dust behind them.” one resident noted.
The Department of Environmental Protection, which has been monitoring the abatement procedures, has checked on the work five times since the beginning of 2008 alone and issued two citations for failure to wet the asbestos before removing it.
A similar situation exists all over the United States, where less than reputable asbestos remediation firms are capitalizing on the fear engendered by the word ‘mesothelioma’ to make big bucks. More to the point, these firms are using immigrant labor and the homeless to perform remediation without providing proper equipment, training, or information on the dangers of asbestos.
If your home, office, apartment or townhome is undergoing asbestos abatement, check with local, regional and federal agencies to verify that the abatement firm is licensed to do the work, and has not been cited for violations of asbestos-removal codes.