Aireko Sentenced for Clean Air Act Violations in Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN – Aireko Construction Co.’s chief executive, Josen Rossi, said he still does not know whether the company will appeal a federal court’s decision to impose a $1.5 million fine and three-year probation for allegedly mishandling asbestos in the North Tower of Minillas in 2012.
Rossi told Caribbean Business that he did not want to comment further on the matter, but said he would later say what steps the company will follow. Publicly, Rossi had already said he felt the fine was excessive and that a subcontracted firm was responsible for the incident, not Aireko. However, an attorney consulted by CB said there was very little that could be done about the fine because the company negotiated a plea bargain, accepting the findings.
The Justice Department said Aireko violated the federal Clean Air Act and failed to comply with the asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants during the “illegal” removal of asbestos-containing materials in May 2012 from the Minillas North Tower in San Juan. As part of a plea agreement with the government, the company was also ordered to pay $172,020 to cover a baseline medical examination and follow up medical examination people exposed to asbestos fibers.
“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,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.
Saying that exposure can cause cancer and serious respiratory diseases, Special Agent-in-Charge Tyler Amon for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division in New York explained that the company “avoided hiring trained and certified asbestos abatement professionals. AIREKO did the work ‘on the cheap’, willfully putting workers and others at risk.”
The Justice Department explained that a subcontractor of Aireko removed asbestos containing material from the ceiling of the ninth floor of Minillas North Tower without following standards required by federal regulation. A “significant portion” of the material was then placed in the trash area behind the building.
The law requires immediately reporting the release of asbestos to the National Response Center (NRC). An EPA investigation showed asbestos throughout the building, and the agency issued a notice to the Puerto Rico Building Authority that then closed the building. Cleanup of the Minillas North Tower took approximately one year. The government identified approximately 450 people exposed to asbestos fibers between the illegal removal and the order to close the building.
Aireko Vice President Edgardo Albino previously pleaded guilty to failing to notify immediately the NRC of the release of asbestos and was sentenced to pay a fine and serve a six-month term of probation.