July 1, 2005 Two men were convicted Thursday in U.S. District Court for failing to properly remove asbestos during a demolition project at the Donoe Housing Community. Additionally, the two were convicted of filing false air monitoring reports with the V.I. Housing Authority and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The incidents happened in January and February 2001.
U.S. Attorney Anthony J. Jenkins said in a news release issued Friday that Cleve Allen George of St. Thomas and Dylan C. Starnes of Atlanta face up to five years in jail and a $250,000 fine on each count. George was convicted on 16 counts and Starnes on 15 counts. They will be sentenced November 2.
Jenkins said that George and Starnes violated U.S. Environmental Protection Agency work standards by removing the asbestos-containing ceiling material with a power washer. He said thousands of square feet of asbestos-containing materials were washed from the buildings onto the surrounding ground and down the public sewer.
Jenkins said that in an attempt to cover up their misconduct, the two filed false air monitoring reports with the Housing Authority. He said the reports falsely indicated the air quality was safe when the two failed to conduct air monitoring.
According to the press release, both were experienced in removing asbestos and had worked in the industry for over 10 years, with Starnes serving as an instructor in the Atlanta area.
Jenkins said these convictions were an initiative by the U.S. Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section that looks for the nation's most egregious workplace safety violators. He said that under this initiative, employers who ignore environmental laws and place their workers at risk can expect to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
He said the goal of the initiative is to improve workplace safety by applying existing laws to an arena that has historically suffered from weak enforcement.
EPA and the federal Clean Air Act both designated asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant. It causes a wide range of illnesses, including various forms of cancer and the lung disease asbestosis. It is usually fatal. The EPA determined there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
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