April 1 -7, 2017 Senate Resolution: National Asbestos Awareness Week

4/5/2017

The United States Senate has passed a Resolution that designates the first week of April 2017 as National Asbestos Awareness Week and urges the Surgeon General of the United States to warn and educate people about the public health issue of asbestos exposure, which may be hazardous to their health.

It is particularly timely that we present the following report on asbestos hazards in building renovation projects in Massachusetts. This is a topic that we have covered in prior years and it is particularly important that workers be reminded about the protections necessary to reduce the risk of disease:

Building Renovation Boom Creates Risk of Asbestos Hazards

Massachusetts' building renovation boom has increased work for restoration and remediation professionals. Registered asbestos removal projects in the Commonwealth hit an all-time high in 2015 with 23,756 individual projects underway. This success, according to an extensive WBUR article, also resulted in governmental regulators finding more than 300 asbestos safety violations over the past five years. Whether this increase in regulatory compliance activity is a function of contractors' non-compliance or increasingly aggressive regulators, the health risks for contractors and even building occupants are real. Contractors, building owners , building managers and the general population should be aware that asbestos building products originally installed decades ago remain in buildings and pose not only a serious health threat, but a threat of onerous fines and other penalties.

The environmental regulatory protection scheme is extensive and complicated, particularly in the area of asbestos. One of these asbestos abatement projects was recently performed as part of a $65 million reconstruction of a technical school in Tyngsborough, MA. According to the Eagle-Tribune, Attorney General Maura Healy filed suit in Suffolk Superior Court against the asbestos abatement contractor seeking $25,000 in fines for each day an alleged violation occurred. The Attorney General contends that the company committed many violations, including failing to contain work areas while performing asbestos work and leaving asbestos-containing debris throughout the school. The contractor asserted that its employees "followed all the regulations, all the protocols" set by the Department of Labor Standards for asbestos removal. The contractor contended the agency inspected the remediation site more than fifteen times over the course of an eighteen-month project, without ever issuing a citation. Despite the company's alleged diligence, and the monitoring of the abatement by a private environmental inspection company, the Attorney General acquired sufficient information through undisclosed sources to bring suit.

These administrative regulatory compliance matters are serious legal disputes. They create a range of risks for both the contractor as well as the building owner and manager. Beyond regulatory fines for releasing asbestos fibers into the environment, those involved can be subject to workers compensation claims as well as civil lawsuits. In addition to the threat of possible claims and lawsuits, the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards' maximum fine for worksite safety violations is $2,500 for first-time offenders and $5,000 for repeat offenders. WBUR reported that asbestos violations occurred at a diverse range of worksites, including residences, schools, and office buildings.

What can be done to protect against these claims and lawsuits? First, companies and each individual worker must be well informed about federal and state regulatory requirements to ensure that they complete asbestos abatement projects in both a safe and legally-mandated manner. Moreover, it is essential that workers not only follow all of the required steps, but that they document their compliance contemporaneously so that years later any suggestion that the rules were not followed can be definitively answered. With these actions - knowledge, compliance, and documentation - asbestos remediation work can be performed safely.

Governo Law Firm has represented clients in environmental and toxic tort regulatory and civil claims for three decades. We regularly lecture and publish topical articles relating to the restoration and remediation industry. In addition, we follow the scientific, medical, and legal developments in environmental and toxic tort claims, including asbestos, lead, mold, and chemical exposure. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact David Governo at dgoverno@governo.com or Vincent DePalo at vdepalo@governo.com.