Yesterday, I wrote a piece on the 3rd wave of asbestos disease in America. Today, I want to look at another piece of that problem. People like Kris Penny are exposed to asbestos through working in environments that contain it. There is another segment of the population that will soon be a part of the 3rd wave and they are asbestos remediation workers. Removing asbestos can be deadly duty.
We like to think of asbestos remediation workers as highly trained individuals outfitted with the latest in personal protective equipment (PPE). In a great many cases, that’s the truth. What happens when it’s not?
Dishonest and disreputable companies routinely pinch pennies to maximize profits by having employees forego certain safety protections. Many such employees are hired not for their expertise in working with asbestos, but as less-expensive manual laborers. A good portion of them are not familiar with proper asbestos-handling safety measures and certainly don’t know what PPE will truly keep them safe.
These corner-cutting bosses expose their unsuspecting employees to the possibility of getting mesolthelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis (a chronic inflammatory condition that scars the lungs and causes shortness of breath, as well as a greater likelihood of cancer). I’ll spare you pictures, but you can Google it if you really want to know more.
A former assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York, Craig Benedict, used to tackle such corner-cutters while helping the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in criminal investigations. Benedict, who retired last year, handled over 100 prosecutions of such bad bosses during a 15-year period. Many of them ended up in prison.
One of his biggest cases was a father/son team, Raul and Alex Salvagno. The Salvagnos ran what is known as a “rip-and-run” asbestos removal business. Their company performed dangerously shoddy work at several hundred locations during a 10-year period. They were so bad they even secretly owned a testing lab that falsified around 75,000 asbestos sample results that were used to show customers the jobs were done safely.
The Salvagnos were convicted and given 19.5 years and 25 years respectively. They were also ordered to pay $23M in restitution to their workers. Business must have been very good, indeed.
Surprisingly to me, Benedict said that he was “never surprised” and “never jaded” by the horrible things he saw. And he saw plenty, from the perpetrators like the Salvagnos to the victims, some of whom were homeless people, inmates, immigrants and even children.
In one particular case he said, “We found asbestos in a box of lollypops a bank handed out to customers.”
Another case involved two teenage brothers working on an asbestos removal project. Their boss instructed them to rip open bags of asbestos and “put them in a Dumpster with the regular trash. They would end up being coated head to foot with asbestos debris.”
Benedict saw other illegal work done at a state police barracks and even at New York’s Asbestos Control Bureau. There was also illegal work performed in a conference room used by state lawmakers and a supply room used by hospice workers.
These and other victims will almost surely join others in the 3rd wave of asbestos disease that is currently breaking on innocent Americans.
I’ll end with perhaps the most chillingly accurate statement one could make about this situation. It comes from Benedict. In the worst of his cases, he said it was as though employers “took their workers outside, lined them up against the wall and shot them with high-powered weapons. They knew — just as certainly as someone who actually did that — that their actions over time had a very high likelihood of resulting in death or serious bodily injury.”