Owner, Company Convicted in Rochester Asbestos Case

A Rochester, N.Y. asbestos abatement company and its owner have been convicted of eight counts of knowingly violating Clean Air Act asbestos work practice standards, and the owner was convicted of lying to an OSHA inspector to hide the violations, the U.S. Justice Department announced Monday.

The owner, Keith Gordon-Smith, was aware that asbestos was inside the west wing of the Genesee Hospital complex in Rochester when his company began pre-demolition work in early 2007, but he did not inform his workers of this, provide protective equipment, or ensure the asbestos was properly handled and disposed, according to the indictment in the case. Gordon-Smith and the company also were convicted of six counts of failing to notify EPA before beginning asbestos abatement work at six additional sites in the Rochester area.

Gordon-Smith had a contract with the site owner giving him 50 percent of the salvage value of all copper pipe and scrap metal from the six-story building, which contained more than 70,000 square feet of asbestos, according to the Justice Department. He ordered the workers to tear out copper pipes, ceiling tiles, and scrap metal, which caused asbestos-containing material to fall on the workers "like snow," the jury was told during the three-week trial. The workers wore no protective clothing and often wore asbestos-contaminated clothing back to their homes after work, according to the department's account of the case.

The jury also convicted Gordon-Smith and his company of causing workers to illegally remove and dispose of asbestos during the actual asbestos abatement at the west wing from May 2007 until February 2009. Francis Rowe, a former project manager for the company, was acquitted of the charge against him: one count of causing illegal asbestos removal and disposal from March 2008 until February 2009.

"During the illegal removal, the asbestos was allowed to flow from upper floors through drains and holes in containment," according to the department's account. "Large amounts of asbestos were left hidden in the west wing and were never disposed off-site at an EPA-approved site." It says Gordon-Smith was fired from the site in February 2009 and an EPA Criminal Investigation Division special agent inspected the west wing in April 2009 and shut down the site. The building was eventually abated properly by another contractor and demolished in September 2010.

"Gordon-Smith knowingly exposed workers and public areas to the toxic air pollutant asbestos," said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The verdict should send a strong message to those in the asbestos abatement industry. We have zero tolerance for violations of the Clean Air Act asbestos work practice standards."

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of New York, which prosecuted the case, warns that anyone who was present in the west wing of the former Genesee Hospital from Jan. 1, 2007, to the present may have been exposed to the asbestos.

Sentencing is set for Feb. 25, 2011, before U.S. District Judge Charles J. Siragusa in Rochester.

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