In February, three defendants will stand trial in federal court on 11 counts of conspiracy to defraud the government and violate the Clean Air Act by making false statements and obstructing the course of justice in relation to asbestos remediation.
The defendants are Donald Fillers, David Wood, and James Mathis (of the Mathis Companies, Inc.). Fillers and Wood are the owners of a company called the Watkins Street Project, LLC, which was formed in 2003 to buy and demolish the Standard Coosa Thatcher textile plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with an eye to salvaging equipment and materials.
A fourth member of the consortium, Gary Fillers, has already pleaded guilty to what federal investigators and prosecutors suspect was a hugely understated amount of asbestos removed from the textile factory during 2004 and 2005, under conditions which clearly did not comply with NESHAP (National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants) regulations as outlined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The indictment charges the defendants with submitting a 10-day notice (in August of 2004) with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau, the agency regulating asbestos removal and other hazardous air pollutants. The notice is described by officials as having vastly understated the amount of asbestos involved in removal.
Other counts include failure to wet the tools used in asbestos removal; failure to hire trained personnel; failure to provide those hired with protective equipment; sorting the removed asbestos from salvage items by hand; disposing of removed asbestos by throwing it out windows; putting the discarded asbestos into open piles, accessible to the general public, or; hiding it in dumpsters, and; transporting removed asbestos offsite without proper packaging, labeling or shipping, and disposing of it in facilities not licensed for hazardous waste.
More specifically, the individuals (and the firms they represent) hired not merely the untrained, but homeless people and derelicts to remove the asbestos. This means that all those desperate enough to accept demolition jobs with either company (Mathis, or Watkins Street Project) for day-laborer wages have earned a mere pittance and exposed themselves to a possible future too dreadful to imagine.
As any asbestos researcher, official, or health specialist knows, a single exposure to broken or damaged asbestos can lead to mesothelioma, a fairly rare but almost always lethal form of cancer of mesothelial tissues (around the lungs, heart and abdominal organs) that typically lies dormant for up to five decades.
Once mesothelioma has had the opportunity to spread, invading numerous vital tissues and/or organs, painful and debilitating symptoms begin to appear, forcing sufferers to seek a doctor’s help. Unfortunately, by this time the cancer is so widespread that most doctors give patients a year or slightly more to live, though some will tackle the cancer with aggressive therapies involving surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, or a combination of the three. These regimens rarely improve prognoses by more than four months, but may relieve pain and difficulty breathing, and provide some emotional relief as well.
The Standard Coosa Thatcher textile plant asbestos removal is one of the most egregious examples of NESHAP violations on record, and some of the victims – being homeless and thus transitory – may never be found, in spite of efforts by local regulators to identify them by placing ads in the local newspaper on Jan. 10.
As U.S. Attorney Greg Sullivan notes, state and federal governments have an obligation to notify victims of their rights under the law. So far, however, only two people have been reported responding to the ad.
The defendants have pleaded not guilty, but, if found in violation of NESHAP rules after the trial (beginning on Feb. 16) concludes, face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press