Construction Company Fined in Asbestos Case

"Asbestos exposure can cause cancer, lung disease, and other serious respiratory diseases," said Tyler Amon, special agent-in-charge for EPA's Criminal Investigation Division in New York. "In this case, AIREKO Construction avoided hiring trained and certified asbestos abatement professionals. AIREKO did the work 'on the cheap,' willfully putting workers and others at risk."

A construction company has been sentenced to pay a fine of $1.5 million and three years of probation for violating the federal Clean Air Act, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Aug. 16. Its news release said AIREKO Construction Company failed to comply with the asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants during illegal removal of asbestos-containing materials from the Minillas North Tower in San Juan, in May 2012, according to court documents.

In a plea agreement, AIREKO also was ordered to pay $172,020 to cover a baseline medical examination and follow-up medical examination for victims exposed to asbestos fibers as a result of the cleanup. The asbestos-containing material was discovered by AIREKO employees, but AIREKO did not immediately report the release of the asbestos to the National Response Center as required by law. EPA initiated an investigation into the release and received sampling results later that week showing asbestos throughout the building, and the agency then issued a notice to the Puerto Rico Building Authority, which closed the building. Cleanup of the Minillas North Tower took approximately one year, according to DOJ.

AIREKO Vice President Edgardo Albino previously pleaded guilty to failing to notify immediately the National Response Center of the release of asbestos. He was sentenced to pay a fine and serve a six-month term of probation.

"This prosecution reflects the commitment of the Department of Justice to enforce federal clean air laws," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We will continue to hold companies such as AIREKO Construction accountable in order to protect the lives and safety of the public."

"The Clean Air Act requires that construction companies follow specific protocols designed to safely remove asbestos prior to any renovation or demolition activity, so as not to expose anyone to the risk of deadly respiratory diseases, and AIREKO Construction Company failed to do so by exposing those who worked at Minillas to asbestos materials," agreed Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. "The U.S. Attorney's Office will continue to work with all victims who were exposed to the asbestos," she added.

"Asbestos exposure can cause cancer, lung disease, and other serious respiratory diseases," said Tyler Amon, special agent-in-charge for EPA's Criminal Investigation Division in New York. "In this case, AIREKO Construction avoided hiring trained and certified asbestos abatement professionals. AIREKO did the work 'on the cheap,' willfully putting workers and others at risk. We will not allow businesses to cut corners on environmental protection at the expense of people’s health."

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