The owner of a warehouse, Anastasios Kolokouris, has pled guilty before Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci, for violating the EPA’s Clean Air Act regarding asbestos work practices. His decision to violate this act may lead to several employees being hurt on the job

The Inspection construction worker holding a building plan

An inspection of the warehouse was made by an inspector from the New York State Department of Labor after an anonymous complaint was made to the department.

When the inspector arrived, he observed that a dumpster and the area around the container was full of white, fibrous material. He took samples of the material and it was later positively identified  by a lab as asbestos. The workers on site were both next to and in the dumpster containing the asbestos – including a 16-year-old boy. None of the employees were using the proper protective equipment, nor were there warning signs regarding the asbestos around the area.

When the inspector approached the employees, they contacted Kolokouris, who instructed them to leave the site, lock the gates, and refuse to speak with the inspector.

Once the lab confirmed that the white material was indeed asbestos, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) were notified. The two departments obtained a warrant and went to the warehouse in protective gear. There they found more than 90 garbage bags of asbestos. Additional samples sent to the lab revealed high levels of asbestos exposure.

In interviews, the workers had reported that Kolokouris had offered to pay cash if they would remove the asbestos from the dumpster because the company which owned the dumpster wouldn’t take it with asbestos in it. None of his employees were trained to work with the asbestos or offered the proper protection.

Why Is Asbestos Dangerous?

Numerous studies have shown that asbestos exposure can cause a lung disease which has been named asbestosis, a form of cancer called mesothelioma, and other types of cancer that may affect the lungs, stomach, colon, and esophagus. At this time, there is no known minimum amount of asbestos that is “safe” to be exposed to.

In light of this information, the EPA designated asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant in 1971. Anyone who is supposed to work with asbestos must wear protective masks, suits, and gloves. If the material is removed from a location, it must be sealed in the proper waste containers while wet and disposed of properly in a landfill.

Can The Workers Claim Workers’ Comp If They Become Ill? 

The New York Workers’ Compensation Board says that “Virtually all employers in New York State must provide workers’ compensation coverage for the employees.” This includes “part-time employees, borrowed employees, leased employees, family members and volunteers working for a for-profit business.”

Even though these men, women, and children were being paid in cash under the table, they should be able to receive workers’ compensation insurance if the asbestos exposure results in an illness – that is, if Kolokouris has workers’ compensation insurance.

What Happens If There Is No Insurance?

Workers’ Compensation insurance doesn’t protect just the worker – it also protects the employer. If an injured worker accepts workers’ compensation benefits, they are barred from filing a personal injury lawsuit against their employer. This does not, however, prevent them from filing a lawsuit against a third party who behaved negligently and caused their injury or illness.

In this case, it may also be possible to pursue legal action against the manufacturer of the asbestos.

However things progress, it would be in the workers best interests to consult an attorney. Even if they don’t intend to file a lawsuit, the process of filing a workers’ compensation claim can be long and confusing. Attorneys who specialize in workers’ compensation, like those at Markhoff & Mittman, P.C., can assist anyone who has been hurt on the job by going over the correct forms, keeping the heat on the insurance company until they pay, and reviewing the details surrounding the accident to determine if any other steps need to be taken.