A Rochester, New York factory owner admitted in court earlier this month that he knew his untrained workers were being exposed to high amounts of asbestos, yet he did nothing to stop it.
Democrat & Chronicle reports that Anastasios “Taso” Kolokouris, 32, of Avon, NY, pleaded guilty on March 1 to violating work standards mandated by the federal Clean Air asbestos laws. The incident came about in December, 2011, after a New York State Department of Labor inspector with the Asbestos Control Bureau visited the warehouse, located on 920 Exchange Street in Rochester. The inspector, following up on a complaint, noticed numerous people at the working near a large dumpster, close to a loading dock. One of the workers was a 16-year-old teen.
The inspector saw larges amounts of a white, fibrous materials next to the dumpster. The material was later confirmed as asbestos. None of the workers were wearing any protective gear, and there were no warning signs around indicating asbestos was in the area.
Afterwards, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) were notified of the inspection results. Both organizations obtained a federal search warrant to enter the premises and wearing protective gear, federal and state agents entered the warehouse. While searching, they discovered several 90-pound bags that contained friable asbestos, sitting by the loading dock.
The agents also found evidence that someone conducted an unlawful asbestos abatement project inside the warehouse, where asbestos had contaminated over 150,000 square feet. After collecting numerous samples from the warehouse and sending to a lab for analyzation, it was confirmed that all samples tested high for asbestos.
After agents interviewed the workers, they learned that the workers were hired by Kolokouris to perform odd jobs here and there, including removing asbestos from the large dumpster, since the trash company refused to empty the trash dumpster if it contained asbestos. Kolokouris paid the workers in cash, including the 16-year-old and his mother, who were both picked up from home by Kolokouris and driven to the warehouse to work.
All of the workers said that they were never once provided any sort of protective clothing or gear while working for Kolokouris.
According to press release provided by attorney William J. Hochul, Jr., Kolokouris allowed his employees to work in extremely dangerous situations to simply save himself money.
“Simply to save money, this defendant knowingly exposed untrained, temporary workers to asbestos, a highly dangerous substance long known to cause cancer. While all of us welcome re-development in our community, it is critical to the health and safety of employees, as well as to residents living in nearby neighborhoods, that proper removal guidelines be strictly followed. This Office will continue to prosecute those who put profit ahead of people in this important area of law.”
Kolokouris took a plea deal which carries a maximum sentence of five years behind bars, as well as a $250,000 fine. As part of the plea deal, the warehouse owner admitted guilt in the case and said he was aware what he did was wrong. His sentencing is scheduled for June 1 at 3:30 p.m.
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