In Middletown, New York, officials are ready to fine the owner of a building where asbestos was removed in violation of state laws.
The building is the former Classy Leather goods warehouse on Canal St. The furor arose when a city building inspector came upon a work crew leaving the building with bags of asbestos that they planned to dump, presumably in a local landfill.
The inspector shut down the operation and called New York State’s Labor Department Asbestos Control Bureau, which regulates asbestos remediation and removal. A Labor Department inspector showed up a day later.
Middletown Public Works Commissioner Jacob Tawil observed the closure, and Middletown resident West Solloway, who owns an adjacent warehouse (Fort Knox Self Storage), has been complaining about the removal for months, noting that workers are breaking up asbestos-containing material up with sledgehammers without the benefit of masks or other protective gear.
Working in such a manner can lead to asbestos-related diseases, notably mesothelioma, which is caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers released when material is broken up or degraded.
These fibers, so small they have to be viewed under an electron microscope, set up irritation, which can lead to lesions and, from there, to cancer. This cancer, most commonly occurring in the lungs, or pleura, typically lies dormant for up to five decades, gradually involving more and more vital tissue until symptoms become so severe that those affected are compelled to seek medical help.
The prognosis for advanced pleural mesothelioma is very poor, and most patients are given a year or slightly more to live. Peritoneal (or abdominal) mesothelioma, together with pericardial mesothelioma – occurring around the heart – make up most of the balance of mesothelial cancers, with cancers of the mesothelial lining of the sexual organs (tunica) making up the smallest percentage.
According to Solloway, his repeated complaints to city and state agencies about the removal have largely been ignored, even though he has documentation from the Labor Department that verifies the presence of asbestos-related materials in the building as recently as June.
The warehouse, comprised of several contiguous buildings, also houses a Family Empowerment Council program, which provides vital services to the handicapped.
According to Labor Department spokeswoman Karen Williamson, the property owner will be charged with failing to use a licensed asbestos contractor, failing to use workers licensed in asbestos removal, failing to perform the removal according to established asbestos removal standards, and failing to dispose of materials as prescribed, in a hazardous waste-certified landfill. The amount of fines, which will be determined by the Labor Department, remains undetermined.
The owner of the property is Joe Klein, the president of Elgin Realty, which has submitted proposals to develop the warehouse property with Middletown city officials. Klein has also submitted proposals to develop the former Middletown Psychiatric Center.
Under New York State law, contractors are required to provide 10 days notice of a proposed asbestos remediation/removal project to the Labor Department in order to get a valid permit. The state also mandates removal only at the hands of a state-certified contractor.
Sources: Times Herald-Record