On September 21, 2011, United States District Court Judge Charles J. Siragusa sentenced Keith Gordon-Smith, 54, of Rochester, New York, to six years in prison for knowingly violating the Clean Air Act and making false statements to a federal inspector from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Gordon-Smith was also sentenced to serve a three year term of supervised release to follow his prison term and was ordered to pay a $1,100 special assessment. Gordon Smith’s company, Gordon-Smith Contracting Inc. (GSCI), was sentenced to pay a special assessment of $44,000 and is now out of business.
The convictions are based in part on work improperly formed on an asbestos abatement job in a hospital during which GSCI employees failed to follow mandatory asbestos abatement procedures. Gordon-Smith directed his workers to tear out copper pipes, ceiling tiles and scrap metal from the hospital that contained more than 70,000 square feet of asbestos without performing proper abatement. The Justice Department press release stated “Gordon-Smith hired workers who had little formal education or English comprehension. A number of the workers had no training in asbestos removal and did not know they were being exposed to the asbestos while removing the copper pipes. Evidence at sentencing showed that when workers questioned Gordon-Smith, he lied and told them the areas did not contain asbestos. Gordon-Smith ultimately lied to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspector who came to the site in September and October 2007 to investigate allegations of illegal asbestos removal.” Failure to follow proper abatement procedures exposed the workers and the public to dangerous asbestos. The workers were not given any protective clothing or respirators even while the asbestos fell on the workers “like snow.”
As trained asbestos abatement professionals are aware, asbestos work practice standards under the Clean Air Act require that all asbestos must be removed from any structure before the site containing the asbestos may be disturbed. Once the asbestos is removed, renovation or demolition of a structure is permitted. During asbestos removal, workers must moisten or “wet down” the asbestos to prevent asbestos fibers from floating in the air. The area in which abatement is being conducted must be sealed off from other areas. Many of you have seen the heavy plastic sheets that separate the asbestos abatement area from the remainder of a building. Asbestos must also be disposed of as a hazardous waste. As this case demonstrates, failure of an asbestos abatement company to follow the rules is not simply a matter of breach of contract, it is also a criminal offense that may result in incarceration and fines for persons and companies.