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Asbestos violations a worldwide problem

Tens of thousands of people die each year around the globe because of asbestos-related diseases such as malignant mesothelioma and asbestosis, according to the World Health Organization. And because of the extremely hazardous nature of asbestos, which was once widely used in construction as an insulator and flame-retardant, its handling needs to be undertaken with the utmost care.

Despite the risks, on occasion careless or unethical individuals do not take the proper precautions when dealing with buildings that contain the naturally occurring mineral, which can have grave consequences for workers or those in the area of the work.

Such was the case of Russell Coco, who supervised a renovation project at the Equitable Building, a Des Moines, Iowa landmark. According to the Des Moines Register, Coco recently agreed to plead guilty to allowing asbestos to be mishandled during the refurbishment work.

Coco’s attorney told the news source that his client will plead guilty to conspiracy to impede and impair Environmental Protection Agency procedures in regards to the proper removal of asbestos and of violating certain requirements of the Clean Air Act. The news source reports that these are two parts of the 11-count indictment that Coco and developer Bob Knapp faced related to the project at the Equitable Building.

The highly dangerous nature of asbestos exposure requires that it be removed from buildings during renovations as such work can allow for the deadly mineral fibers to become airborne. If these fibers are inhaled by anyone they can cause malignant mesothelioma and asbestosis as well as lung cancer. These health risks make it imperative that the naturally occurring mineral is handled with extreme care during its removal from buildings, something that Coco and Knapp were accused of not doing.

Specifically, the pair is charged with placing removed asbestos in an open dumpster and then improperly disposing of it at a landfill. The news source reports that each count of the indictment carries a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to five years in prison.

Although the use of asbestos has been banned in more than 50 countries around the world, the hazardous material is often still not being handled properly in many nations.

An English construction company was recently fined for allowing its workers to be exposed to asbestos. Inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited the site of a church demolition in Kent being conducted by Bernard Berry of Berry Estates Development Limited in April of last year. The inspectors reportedly found a number of asbestos violations.

Specifically, they found that although the structure had been mostly razed, the company did not have a demolition plan and had not carried out an asbestos survey prior to the work, both of which would have made the site safer for workers and those in the area.

“The company failed to take any measures aimed at controlling the workers’ exposure to asbestos and reduce any future incidence of related diseases,” said HSE inspector David Fussell. “This is a shocking case as it was foreseeable that a building of this age may have had asbestos-containing materials in the building fabric, as the subsequent survey highlighted.”

Fussell said that the health risks experienced by workers and those near the site could have been easily avoided.

“If the company had carried out a survey and prepared a plan of work prior to demolition, the risk of exposure to the workers onsite or the general public could have been avoided,” he said.

In total, the demolition company and its owner had to pay nearly £20,000 in fines and costs.

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