A Maryland contractor has been hit with a $1.2 million fine over illegal asbestos disposal, which is the largest such fine in the state’s history.
Maryland state inspectors say that employees from Erie Vera, LLC, disposed of debris contaminated with asbestos by tossing it down a five-story tall garbage chute and into an open bin during the renovation of a Baltimore building.
The careless disposal of the material, and the fact that employees were not wearing protective clothing or respirators, increased the risk of health problems from asbestos exposure, which is known to cause asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Last month, following a two-day trial, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Stephen J. Sfekas fined New York-based Erie Vella $1.2 million, and the owners of the building, located at 2315 St. Paul Street in Baltimore, were fined $115,500.
The asbestos disposal was discovered by state inspectors after they received an anonymous tip in September 2007 while the six-story building was being converted into apartments. State officials ordered a halt to work and brought in a contractor licensed in asbestos removal.
The new contractors hauled out about 7,500 bags of asbestos-contaminated materials. Between 15 and 20 workers were exposed to asbestos without the benefit of protective gear, officials said.
Asbestos was widely used in a variety of manufacturing and construction applications throughout the last century, particularly shipbuilding, with use peaking in 1973. Most uses of asbestos were banned in the mid-1980s. Despite the ban, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the number of mesothelioma deaths continues to rise each year due to the latency period, with the number expected to peak in 2010.
Asbestos mesothelioma lawsuits are the longest running mass tort in U.S. history, with the first asbestos exposure case filed in 1929. Over 600,000 people have filed lawsuits against 6,000 defendants after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis or other asbestos-related diseases.