On Friday, May 29, Certified Environmental Services, Inc., a Syracuse, New York-based environmental testing laboratory, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges it falsified air quality tests on buildings.
CES, which bills itself as a full-service environmental consulting firm with a New York State Department of Health-approved laboratory, tests air, water, soil and oil samples collected by its trained field personnel. These test are then analyzed, CES says on its website, according to the New York State Dept. of Health protocols, as well as protocols established by the N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a part of the U.S. Department of Labor.
The grand jury handed down a 16-count indictment charging CEA with a decades-long scheme of turning over false air quality results that allowed contractors to dupe building owners into believing asbestos had been fully and appropriately removed from their buildings.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Benedict, such false reports were part of an ongoing “rip-and-run” scam that provided contractors with false air results; i.e., that the level of asbestos in buildings was at or below mandatory limits set by the EPA.
“In other words, the buildings were clean. You can go back in. In a lot of instances, that was utterly not so.” Benedict noted, commenting on the indictment.
The indictments, handed down against both CES and five of its employees, charge all with Clean Air Act violations, mail fraud, and making false statements to field agents acting on behalf of the EPA.
CES disputed the allegations, and said through its lawyer, Gabriel Nugent, that the indictment was an inappropriate legal response to what should have been viewed as a regulatory matter. CES further contends that none of its clients were exposed to any health risk.
The indictment differs, charging CES with exposing the occupants of a sorority house at New York State’s Syracuse University to asbestos, as well as employees at the broadcast headquarters of WSTM (a Syracuse television station). Other buildings were employees and the consumer were exposed include a furniture storehouse, a professional services building, a room at the Kellogg Library in Cortland County, and a Jobs Corp center in Oneonta, New York.
This, in addition to bogus reports on about 30 other locations in and around central New York state, including college dormitories and academic buildings at both Syracuse University and Le Moyne College, a Jesuit university in the same city. However, in those cases, the asbestos was removed according to federal and state government protocols, Benedict added.
Asbestos, a mineral found in rock formations, was used heavily as an insulating agent and in floor tiles, acoustical ceiling tiles, and tile adhesives, up to about 1970, when manufacturers, federal and state government officials, and consumers became aware of its dangers. In 1989, the EPA ruled that domestic manufacture of products was limited to one-percent of asbestos, but foreign products still use unregulated amounts of the substance.
Asbestos, when released into the air, can cause lesions of the mesothelial lining of the lungs and digestive tract, inducing asbestosis – a breathing disease – as well as thoracic and digestive cancers, the most lethal of which is mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that usually kills its victims within 18 months of diagnosis.
The names of contractors involved with CES in the fraudulent air quality tests vis-à-vis asbestos have not been revealed, and none have been charged. This case, which marks the third major asbestos fraud case in New York in the past five years, is less serious than the 2004 case of Raul and Alexander Salvagno, who were sentenced to 19 and 25 years, respectively, for their participation in the conspiracy involving AAR Contractor Inc. and Analytical Laboratories of Albany Inc., both of which were owned by Alexander, the second secretly. These were the two longest prison terms ever handed down for violations of the Clean Air Act and federal environmental laws regulating asbestos remediation, removal, and air quality testing.
In the Salvagno case, a jury deliberated for five days before handing down the verdict, which included a $23-million fine aimed at restitution for the more than 75,000 false tests on 1,555 projects, including AAR workers who were never informed of the dangers or provided appropriate remediation equipment. In all, 15 supervisors with both companies were charged with racketeering, and Benedict expressed the hope at that time that the convictions would send a clear message to asbestos removers about taking shortcuts and endangering worker’s lives.
Sources: Newsday, Syracuse.com