On May 5, two Western New York State contractors were charged with dumping thousands of pounds of asbestos-containing debris inside an abandoned warehouse in the Buffalo area. The two were subsequently arrested.
They are 45-year-old Robert Bishop of East Amherst, and 47-year-old Salvatore Capizzi of Grand Island, both of whom have been charged by the New York Attorney General’s office with endangering public health, endangering public safety, endangering the environment, and a fourth charge of criminal mischief. All are felony charges.
According to that office, which operates under the authority of New York State’s Attorney General, Andrew M. Cuomo, the two dumped 10,000 pounds of asbestos-laden debris taken from various construction sites in and around Buffalo into an abandoned warehouse.
The dumping was reportedly the result of New York State Department of Labor’s asbestos regulators asking Robert Bishop, the owner of asbestos remediation firm Peerless Environmental Control Inc., if they could inspect his building. To prevent the discovery of the asbestos debris, according to authorities, Bishop paid his employees to move the toxic waste to the warehouse, where it remained for a year before being discovered by the above-mentioned labor department asbestos regulators.
Asbestos-containing products, or ACMs, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, are safe to be around as long as they are not disturbed, broken or degraded. When that happens, they can release microscopic fibers which, inhaled into the lungs (or ingested and passing into the digestive tract by the mere act of swallowing saliva), can cause a number of adverse health effects, including asbestosis, lung and digestive system cancers, and mesothelioma.
Asbestosis is a progressive breathing disorder, not unlike chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but it is not in itself, cancerous or fatal. Asbestos cancers, which can present as either small-cell or non-small cell tumors, are generally found in the lungs, but they can also show up anywhere along the digestive tract, from the esophagus to the colon. Some are fatal. Malignant mesothelioma, long known as one of the “silent killer” diseases because of its long dormancy, rapid onset and poor prognoses (generally about a year), is the worst of the asbestos-induced forms of cancer, and is always fatal.
For Capizzi, a self-employed demolition contractor who reportedly helped Bishop hide the evidence, and was at one time suspected to be the owner of the abandoned warehouse on Leslie Street, the maximum penalty is the same as for Bishop – seven years in prison.
The abandoned warehouse site has since been cleaned up by the EPA, at a cost of more than $137,400. The joint investigation that resulted in the charges filed against Bishop and Capizzi took place at the behest of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation, in cooperation with the New York State Attorney General’s office.
This case, and others in the state, have led investigators to widen their probe of corruption in the asbestos remediation and demolition industries, which law enforcement officials and industry experts say has a significant history of corruption.
In fact, according to EPA New York Office Criminal Investigation Division head William V. Lometti, the ongoing corruption probe in the area’s asbestos remediation industry is like pulling one thread of a sweater to see how far the garment unravels. Hopefully, in the case of Bishop and Capizzi, the unraveling ends at the now-clean abandoned warehouse.
Sources: Buffalo Business Journal, Buffalo News, EPA website, American Cancer Society, New York Times