A New York construction and asbestos abatement contractor has been sentenced to six years in prison for lying to his untrained employees—and, later, to a federal inspector—about their asbestos exposure.
After a two-day hearing in federal court in Rochester, U.S. District Court Judge Charles J. Siragusa handed down the prison term Wednesday (Sept. 21) for Keith Gordon-Smith, 54, of Rochester, NY.
|Unprotected workers said the asbestos was falling on them “like snow” as they removed it, according to EPA.|
Earlier, a federal jury convicted Gordon-Smith of knowingly violating the Clean Air Act and lying to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector who was investigating allegations of illegal asbestos removal by the now-defunct Gordon-Smith Contracting Inc.
Gordon-Smith was also sentenced to serve three years of supervised release after his prison term and was ordered to pay a $1,100 special assessment. His former company was sentenced to pay a special assessment of $44,000.
‘Large Amounts Were Left Hidden’
The Environmental Protection Agency, which initiated the case, said Gordon-Smith had hired a number of workers who had had no training in asbestos removal and did not know they were being exposed to asbestos while removing copper pipes during a demolition project at a New York hospital and multiple other construction sites.
The workers told authorities that asbestos fell on them “like snow” as they removed it and scrap metal from the sites. The workers had neither protective clothing nor respirators and wore their asbestos-laced clothes home after work.
The jury also found that Gordon-Smith and his company had workers illegally remove and dispose of asbestos during the abatement phase of the project, from May 2007 to February 2009.
“The asbestos was allowed to flow from upper floors through drains and holes in containment,” according to an EPA release. “Large amounts of asbestos were left hidden in the west wing.”
Lying, Notifications Cited
Gordon-Smith and his company were also convicted of six counts of failing to provide required notices to EPA before beginning asbestos abatement projects at six different sites in the Rochester area.
Evidence at sentencing showed that when workers questioned Gordon-Smith, he lied and told them the areas did not contain asbestos, according to EPA. Gordon-Smith later lied to the OSHA inspector at the job site.
“The highly dangerous actions of Keith Gordon-Smith exposed both workers and the public to hazardous materials,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. “Those in the asbestos removal industry are well compensated for their work, but in return are under legal and moral obligation to perform the job correctly.”
Asbestos work practice standards under the Clean Air Act require that all asbestos be removed from any structure where it may be disturbed. While asbestos is removed during abatement, it must be wetted, kept wet at all times, and disposed of as soon as practical at an EPA-approved site.