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Contractor sentenced to prison for illegal asbestos disposal

AsbestosA Rochester, NY contractor who disposed of asbestos illegally, exposed untrained workers to the substance and lied to an OSHA inspector has been sentenced to six years in prison.

After a two day hearing in federal court, U.S. District Court Judge Charles J. Siragusa yesterday sentenced Keith Gordon-Smith, 54 for knowingly violating the Clean Air Act and making false statements to a federal inspector. Gordon-Smith was also sentenced to serve a three year term of supervised release to follow his prison term and was ordered to pay a $1,100 special assessment. Gordon Smith’s now defunct company was sentenced to pay a special assessment of $44,000.

“The highly dangerous actions of Keith Gordon-Smith exposed both workers and the public to hazardous materials,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr.

Gordon-Smith hired a number of workers who had no training in asbestos removal and did not know they were being exposed to the asbestos while removing the copper pipes. Evidence at sentencing showed that when workers questioned Gordon-Smith, he lied and told them the areas did not contain asbestos. Gordon-Smith ultimately lied to an OSHA inspector who came to the site in September and October 2007 to investigate allegations of illegal asbestos removal.

The workers, who described the asbestos as falling on them “like snow,” were repeatedly exposed to it while tearing out asbestos-contaminated pipes. They were not provided with any protective clothing or respirators while performing the task and they wore their asbestos-contaminated clothing back to their homes and families after work. 

The jury also convicted Gordon-Smith and his company, Gordon-Smith Contracting, Inc. (GSCI), of causing GSCI workers to illegally remove and dispose of asbestos during the actual asbestos abatement at the west wing of the Genesee Hospital complex, from May 2007 until February 2009. The asbestos was allowed to flow from upper floors through drains and holes in containment. Large amounts of asbestos were left hidden in the west wing. Gordon-Smith was fired from the site in February 2009. The building was subsequently cleaned of asbestos before it was demolished in September 2010.

Gordon-Smith and his company were also convicted by the jury of six counts of failing to provide required notices to EPA prior to commencing asbestos abatement projects at six different sites in the Rochester area, between 2005 and June 2008. The sites included the west wing of the Genesee Hospital complex, Cobbles Elementary School in Penfield, Bloomfield Elementary School in East Bloomfield, the Al Sigl Center in Rochester, and the Hillside Children’s Center in Varick.

Asbestos work practice standards under the Clean Air Act require that all asbestos must be removed from any structure where it may be disturbed, such as the west wing of the Genesee Hospital complex, where Gordon-Smith ordered the workers to remove pipes contaminated with asbestos. While asbestos is removed during abatement, it must be wetted and kept adequately wet at all times and disposed of as soon as practical at an EPA-approved site.

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