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New York Contractor Faces Criminal Penalties for Role in Illegal Asbestos Removal

On November 20, a Rochester, New York jury convicted Keith Gordon-Smith, the owner of a Rochester-based asbestos abatement company, Gordon-Smith Contracting, Inc. (GSCI), on eight separate charges for knowingly violating provisions of the Clean Air Act regarding handling asbestos in the workplace.

The jury also concluded that Gordon-Smith had lied and falsified evidence in order to hide the asbestos violations, notably at a demolition site in Rochester – a decision which Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General (Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Department of Justice, or DOJ) said was meant to send a “strong message” to potential future violators in the asbestos remediation industry that the DOJ has zero tolerance.

The charges include two counts of forcing GSCI workers to breach established asbestos remediation rules – violations occurring between January of 2007 and May of 2007, when GSCI workers were ordered to tear out copper, scrap metal and ceiling tiles from the six-story west wing of Genesee Hospital, documented as containing more than 70,000 square feet of asbestos.

The tear-outs were ordered because Gordon-Smith reportedly had a written agreement with the site owner that returned him (Gordon-Smith) half of the salvage value of the metals recovered.

As a result, GSCI workers were so heavily exposed to the asbestos on and around the pipes and other metal that it “fell on them like snow”, according to testimony before the jurors. Worse yet, the workers were not provided with any protective clothing and often wore their asbestos-contaminated work clothing home, exposing yet another entire segment of the population to asbestos’ dangers and possible futures as mesothelioma sufferers.

Asbestos is the leading cause of asbestosis, a progressive respiratory disease like emphysema that is generally acquired after long-term, extensive exposure to asbestos, as in a mine or a factory setting where asbestos is manufactured into other products.

Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a cancer of mesothelial tissues that can lie dormant for up to five decades before exploding into a highly aggressive, incurable cancers that usually claim patients’ lives within a year of diagnosis.

The jury convicted GSCI and its owner of lying to an inspector from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a division of the U.S. Department of Labor. This inspector reportedly visited the remediation site three times in September and October of 2007, in response to worker’s complaints, and on each occasion Gordon-Smith told the inspector that workers had not removed any copper pipe or other materials.

Gordon-Smith and GSCI were also charged with forcing workers to remove and illegally dispose of asbestos from May to 2007 until February of 2009. Concerning these charges, GSCI’s project manager at the time, Francis Rowe, was cited for the same, but was later acquitted.

This asbestos was reportedly allowed to drain down from topmost floors downward, through apertures in the building shell and asbestos containment areas. In addition, large amounts of documented asbestos were never removed at all or disposed of offsite as should have occurred under the terms of the asbestos abatement contract.

Gordon-Smith was fired in February of 2009. In April, an investigative agent from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Criminal Investigation Division inspected the site and shut it down immediately. A subsequent contractor completed asbestos remediation, and the hospital was taken down in September of 2010.
Gordon-Smith and GSCI were also charged with six counts of failing to provide the required 10-day notice to the EPA at six sites before beginning asbestos abatement in Rochester between 2005 and June of 2008. Besides Genesee Hospital, these sites include: Cobbles Elementary School (Penfield); Bloomfield Elementary School (East Bloomfield); the Al Sigl Center (Rochester); and Hillside Children’s Center (Varick). The fifth site has not been designated.

Gordon-Smith could be imprisoned for up to five years for each count, and pay fines of up to $250,000 per count. GSCI faces a criminal fine of up to $500,000 per count.



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