In Amarillo, Texas, Jack R. Coiner, the owner of Asbestos Maintenance Services Inc., has been charged with negligently releasing asbestos into the air.
The sentence – four years of probation under federal auspices, a fine of $31,250 and 160 hours of community service – seem like a lightweight penalty for endangering the lives and health of not only his employees, but any unfortunates who might have come in contact with his stored asbestos, contained in bags and barrels that had begun to deteriorate due to age or exposure, releasing potentially lethal asbestos particles.
The stored asbestos, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, Region 6), working in cooperation with the Texas Department of State Health Services Division, described as contained inside properly sealed and labeled bags and barrels, had been stored for some time, according to Coiner, who said he planned to take it to a designated hazardous waste landfill, but had so far been prevented from doing so by financial hardship.
In December of 2009, according to federal court records, Coiner had been instructing his two employees to store the asbestos. This went on from July of 2007 to May of 2009 and was, according to a federal investigation, the only instance in which Coiner had violated federal asbestos disposal laws.
Clearly, the light sentence is the result of this otherwise spotless record. It is also presumably justified when compared to New York City asbestos inspector Saverio F. Todaro, who is reported as having faked more than 200 asbestos inspections in such an egregious demonstration of graft and negligence that Coiner’s actions pale by comparison.
Todaro’s investigation is in addition to six other cases surrounding asbestos inspection, reporting and remediation that call into question the city’s ability to manage the problem, and examine the possibility that extensive collaboration and intent to defraud may be part and parcel of the city’s asbestos removal landscape. In fact, New York City law enforcement officials have long said that the city’s construction (and deconstruction) industry is fraught with corruption.
Coiner’s case, by comparison, seems more an instance of genuine hardship than collusion, but nonetheless highlights the dangers of a plethora of asbestos regulations that have become unenforceable due to a duplication of effort, a lack of manpower and the overwhelming size of the asbestos legacy in the United States.
These include the EPA’s National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, or NESHAP, regulations, as well as Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA); The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA; the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH); and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR).
This legacy, which sees 10,000 deaths a year in America from asbestos-related illnesses – 2,500 of those from mesothelioma – is projected to remain stable through at least 2030, or 40 years after the EPA attempted to ban asbestos in the U.S.
This 1989 law, which has since been eroded by the asbestos lobby, now regulates asbestos in domestic product to one percent or less by volume (or weight). In spite of this, America imported 1,880 tons of asbestos between 2007 and 2008, with major use continuing in construction materials and auto repair parts, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, or USGS, and this continued importation and use extends the legacy by even more decades while cancer researchers and scientists search for a mesothelioma cure.
Sources: Amarillo.com, Environmental Working Group, New York Times