A contractor hired to remodel the student dormitories at the State University of New York at New Paltz has been accused of removing and dumping dangerous asbestos in violation of federal environmental regulations. Officials at the school, about eighty miles north of New York City, have been cooperating with investigators from the US Environmental Protection Agency in determining how the contractors were moving and disposing of the asbestos found in the older buildings.
EPA Special Agent Patrick Nevers testified in an affidavit that two men, Stevens Espitia Oliveros and Salvatore DePaola, moved and dumped asbestos from the student dormitory buildings, named Bouton Hall, College Hall and Shango Hall, without following proper asbestos abatement procedures. The two men were asbestos removal supervisors with Milestone Environment Corporation based out of Morganville, New Jersey, during the project. Mr. Oliveros was arrested for the company’s violations, but released on his own recognizance pending trial. Mr. DePaola, who was the senior supervisor on the project, was also arrested and released on $50,000 bail.
SUNY New Platz spokesman Erick Gullickson told the media that the asbestos removal project, estimated to cost the school $179,000, was a facet of the school’s efforts to upgrade their facilities, including student housing. Work on the project began last semester at the university campus, which holds classes for eight thousand students. The project wrapped in near the end of the spring semester in May of this year.
The contracting company received a warning notice from the New York State Department of Labor regarding their asbestos abatement issues. When Milestone supervisors ignored the warnings and continued to violate Labor Department regulations, SUNY officials released the firm from their contract and hired another firm to complete the project.
Jason Pensabene, an agent of the Labor Department who specializes in industrial hygiene, stated in Agent Nevers’ affidavit that he witnessed Milestone employees carrying out several violations of the US Clean Air Act in how they handled the asbestos removal project. According to Mr. Pensabene’s testimony, Milestone workers did not seal asbestos debris in airtight, leak proof containers as required by EPA regulations. They also often left asbestos fibers on the floor to be swept up, thus knocking the hazardous substance in the air where workers could inhale it and cause serious health problems due to asbestos exposure. Mr. Pensabene also testified that workers did not use enough water to dampen down the asbestos fibers at one residence hall to prevent the substance from becoming an airborne contaminant.
Another environmental consultant, Kristoffer Landell of the New York firm Envirologic, testified that the efforts made by Milestone’s asbestos abatement workers were what he considered, “the worst I’ve seen.” Mr. Landell also told Agent Nevers about how dry asbestos covered flooring, walls and even two employees themselves during the work on the project and how one of the workers did not have a state-issued asbestos removal license. Mr. Landell also stated that many of the workers were “dry-stripping” asbestos from walls and pipes and piling the debris in garbage bags.
Mr. Gullickson mentioned that the required state background checks on Milestone did not reveal any previous irregularities and that students and staff were never at risk of asbestos exposure.
Sources: Poughkeepsie Journal, Times Herald-Record