Officials with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have announced that they have issued fines to two Vermont-based construction firms for violating federal laws concerning the safe removal and disposal of asbestos-containing materials. CRC Excavating, LLC, of Middlesex was fined $5,000 and the JIDDU/SITTU Trust of Colchester was fined $10,000 for failing to comply with the Clean Air Act and the National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Asbestos.
According to EPA documents, the companies worked together on a residential demolition project in the town of Essex Junction. After the residential lots were demolished, the companies would cooperate on creating a thirty-five unit apartment complex on the site. The charges against the companies allege that they did not carry out thorough inspections of the residential properties for asbestos-laced building materials before beginning the demolition process, a violation of federal asbestos safety laws.
The charges also allege that project supervisors with the companies did not submit a written notification to the EPA of their intent to knock down the older residential structures, also a requirement under federal asbestos regulations. Reports show that the demolition project involved the disposal of more than thirty-five tons of debris, none of which had been inspected for asbestos. Work crews disposed of the asbestos-contaminated materials along with the rest of the debris; federal worker safety rules state that any debris that contains asbestos must be disposed of in airtight containers and must be watered down to prevent the spread of dangerous airborne asbestos fibers.
Although EPA officials have not cited any specific instances of workers at the site becoming exposed to a health hazard, they did state that the potential for a perilous situation did exist as long as CRC crews did not use the proper precautions. Federal and Vermont state regulations require that work crews that handle asbestos-containing materials exercise proper safety measures, including wearing breathing masks and protective clothing that will shield workers from the effects of asbestos dust.
The EPA also reiterated that workers at the site were not the only ones in possible danger from loose asbestos. Area residents and passers-by could also have been exposed to the deadly fibers as crews were removing, dumping and relocating the materials. Exposure to asbestos is known to cause lung diseases and certain forms of cancer, including pleural mesothelioma, a type of cancer that attacks the fluid lining that surrounds the lungs.
Gabe Handy, president of the JIDDU/SITTU Trust, maintains that the site contained no asbestos and that the fines were “totally unfair”. He said that he paid the fines, not because he was guilty, but to avoid a long and costly battle with the government. While he acknowledges that his company did not carry out the required inspections for asbestos, he says that he saw no reasons to conduct the inspections since there was no asbestos in the demolished structures.
Handy claimed that he “had no idea” that he or his contractors were legally obligated to contact the EPA or the state Department of Health prior to beginning the demolition process, but said that he would not have any trouble in paying the fine. Richard Cowles, owner of CRC Excavating, agreed to pay his fine but did not comment on the ruling. If they had decided to fight the charges, they could have faced fines and penalties of nearly $30,000 combined.
Sources: Burlington Free Press, EPA website