According to a November 19
press release issued by The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of
Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia man was recently sentenced to three and a
half years in prison for knowingly exposing day laborers to asbestos.
Gene Cornell Smith knew that the warehouse building he had purchased was
full of asbestos. He had received quotes to have the cancer-causing materials
removed by a certified asbestos abatement company. But, instead of paying
the cost of having the materials removed in a way that would be safe to
workers, neighbors and others in the vicinity, he directed his associate,
Clarence Cole, to hire unqualified day laborers who ripped out the asbestos
illegally. The laborers were not informed of the asbestos hazard, nor
were they given protective equipment to prevent inhalation of the toxic mineral.
The job was ultimately shut down when a concerned citizen brought the matter
to the attention of city officials. However, rather than hiring a qualified
abatement contractor to remediate the building as he was ordered to do,
Smith continued to have day laborers illegally remove and dispose of asbestos
materials, allowing asbestos dust to be released to the outside air.
Following a jury trial in Federal Court, Smith was convicted of conspiracy
and five counts of violating the United States Clean Air Act. His associate
Clarence Cole was sentenced to two years in prison. In addition, both
were ordered to serve three years of supervised release and pay restitution
A November 6 article posted on the
Salon website, addresses another incident in which undocumented workers in New
Jersey were directed by Benjamin H. Realty Company to remove asbestos
with their bare hands. Workers who protested these and other dangerous
working conditions were fired. “The worst thing was the asbestos,”
said Isaac Hernandez, who said he was “100% breathing this stuff
in” in a tight crawl space without warning or proper equipment,
and “we went with our clothes home, so not only were we exposed
– our families were exposed.”
“Clearly, what happens is that when someone is undocumented they
can be exploited and they frequently are,” said New Jersey Senator
Robert Menendez, who is trying to change labor immigration laws in his state.
While we are seeing an increasing number of criminal and civil charges
stemming from the hiring of unqualified workers to remove asbestos “on
the cheap”, one can’t help but wonder how many thousands of
times this occurs on any given day. With all the homes and buildings constructed
in the “peak asbestos years”, from the 1930s through the 1970s,
the opportunity for desperate workers to be exposed to asbestos at the
hands of unscrupulous and exploitative employers will continue for decades.
Not only are unknowing workers exposed to this dangerous pollutant, their
families, the local area and the community at large are also exposed when
asbestos is improperly removed.
Asbestos waste is toxic waste and needs to be treated as such. When asbestos
is removed and handled improperly, chances are that is also being disposed
Federal and State laws prohibit the improper removal and disposal of asbestos.
These laws were enacted to protect workers and the public at large from
exposure to deadly asbestos dust.
If you suspect asbestos is being improperly removed or disposed you should
Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Asbestos Hotline: (800) 368-5888 to file a confidential complaint, or visit the