Boston, MA (WorkersCompensation.com) - Four companies will pay up to $340,000 to settle allegations of illegal asbestos work during the renovation of a public housing facility for elderly and disabled residents in Salem, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.
The complaint and consent judgment, entered Friday in Suffolk Superior Court, settles a lawsuit filed by the AG's Office against the asbestos abatement contractor, E&F Environmental Services (E&F), and its owner and manager, Frank Balogh, as well as three other companies – New England Builders and Contractors, Blackstone Block Architects and TRC Environmental Corporation – for violating the state's clean air law and regulations while working on renovations at the Pioneer Terrace housing facility in Salem.
“Asbestos poses serious health risks to workers and the public when it's not handled properly. Here, our investigation uncovered widespread violations,” AG Healey said. “We will take action against companies and individuals who endanger the health of residents and workers through the improper handling of asbestos.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the Methuen-based New England Builders and Contractors and Boston-based Blackstone Block Architects violated the state's False Claims Act by submitting claims for payment to the Salem Housing Authority, certifying that the improper work at the housing facility was completed in compliance with state law.
According to the AG's Office, during the winter and spring of 2015, E&F illegally removed asbestos from Pioneer Terrace by failing to follow the proper procedures required by law to protect workers, residents, and the public from harmful asbestos exposure, including failing to properly store and contain asbestos-containing material. During inspections at the site, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) found asbestos violations by E&F employees at nearly every building they worked on in the housing complex.
“The Commonwealth's asbestos regulations are designed to protect the public health and the environment,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “MassDEP will vigorously pursue and hold accountable companies and individuals that violate those regulations and put employees and other people in harm's way.”
The lawsuit also alleges that while E&F was working with MassDEP to remediate the asbestos violations at Pioneer Terrace, the company allegedly failed to follow required asbestos abatement procedures during construction at a multi-family home in Medford.
Under the terms of today's settlement, the defendants will pay a total of up to $340,000 in penalties to the state.
E&F and Balogh will pay $150,000, with $20,000 suspended if Balogh and the company's other employees complete training on proper handling and disposal of asbestos. New England Builders & Contractors will pay $85,000, with $15,000 suspended pending asbestos training as well. The settlement also requires TRC Environmental Corporation, a Connecticut-based firm hired to monitor the asbestos work at the Salem project, to pay $60,000 and for one of its employees to be retrained in monitoring asbestos work. Blackstone will also pay $45,000 in penalties to the state.
AG Healey has made asbestos safety a priority, as part of the office's “Healthy Buildings, Healthy Air” Initiative, announced in March 2017, which seeks to better protect the health of children, families, and workers in Massachusetts from health risks posed by asbestos. Since September 2016, the AG's Office, with the assistance of MassDEP, has successfully brought asbestos enforcement cases that together have resulted in more than $2 million in civil penalties.
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