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Asbestos managers in Cal. may face fines, jail time

February 18th, 2006

The California attorney general’s office has charged two contractors with exposing the Salinas County courthouse to airborne asbestos. If convicted of felony charges, two project managers could face nearly $3 million in fines and spend up to three years in prison.

Teresa Schilling, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, says the potential penalties are indicative of the seriousness of the allegations: “This is definitely one of the more egregious violations of environmental law, because they had full and complete knowledge of the law, and they flagrantly ignored it.”

The entities to which Schilling refers are Nova Partners of Palo Alto and Skanska USA Building (the American arm of a Swedish-based construction giant). They won contracts to rebuild the courthouse and perform asbestos abatement, starting work in early 2004.

Less than two years later, the attorney general’s office filed charges against the companies and their respective project managers, Seth Henderson and Anthony Michael Jones. They are alleged to have released asbestos into the air vents of the courthouse twice in early 2005, resulting in what prosecutors call “an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death.”

According to the complaint, laborers for the two firms cut and jackhammered directly over asbestos fireproofing. This dispersed some of the carcinogenic material. “Despite repeated warnings from contracted experts that their planned work would dislodge asbestos and that safety procedures therefore needed to be put into place, the companies proceeded with demolition,” Schilling says.

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