Thursday, October 9, 2014

Can you go to jail for removing asbestos improperly?

Yes, if you knowingly fail to comply with the law regarding asbestos removal.  In this case, a landowner and his property manager were sentenced to jail for conspiracy as well as violations of other laws:

John Francis Mills, 64, the owner of more than a dozen properties in Malone, New York, and Terrance Allen, 57, the maintenance manager of Mills’ properties, were sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy to serve 21 months each in prison for conspiring to violate the Clean Air Act standards for the safe removal of asbestos during renovations of three of Mills’ properties, for releasing asbestos into the environment, and failing to notify the authorities, all in violation of the Clean Air Act’s asbestos work practice standards and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).  Mills’ and Allen’s prison sentences will be followed by two years of supervised release.  In addition, Mills must also pay a $25,000 fine and a $300 crime victim special assessment fee.

Very few of these violations result in jail time, but apparently this pair's violations were egregious.  Years ago, a client of mine needed to remove asbestos; it was a very small amount, but when I looked up the case law I saw the consequences of failing to remove asbestos properly were far greater than the costs of compliance.

Nonetheless, the costs of compliance can be large.  When you see neglected but not demolished homes, whether in the city or country, oftentimes the costs of asbestos removal factors into the structures' abandonment.  Sometimes well-maintained structures have old asbestos: St. Luke's Episcopal Church here in Birmingham is not far from me, and the shingles on its tall steeple have not been replaced in its sixty-year history, very likely because of the expense of compliance.  

Landlords beware.  Lead paint is also in older buildings and has its own set of regulations for its removal and the disclosure of its presence.

(On a side note, I have never before seen Malone, New York in the news.  Malone is upstate and closer to Montreal and the St. Lawrence River than to New York City and the Hudson.  Malone in the late 1860s is very favorably portrayed in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy, which is about the famous author's husband's growing up in an idyllic place.  To this day, Almonzo James Wilder remains the town's most famous son.)