State of Detroit hires contractor with federal asbestos charges against him

Only one month after federal prosecutors charged an asbestos contractor for breaking laws and putting his workers at risk, the state of Detroit hired him to tear down abandoned homes in the city.

Asbestos worker

Detroit Free Press reports that demolition contractor Jesse Brown is accused of not only exposing his workers to asbestos, but also children who live in the Southwest section of Detroit where he worked. Since 2014, Brown and his company,  Brown Environmental Construction, have demolished more than 30 properties in Detroit, which resulted in $40,000 in DEQ fines for various asbestos violations. Brown’s violations are some of the highest ever among contractors in the city.

In 2016, Brown tore down another 256 buildings, that cost a little over $2 million, before he was finally suspended him in July of that year. The suspension came after DEQ violation notices indicated that he tore down 13 buildings in June without following the proper asbestos abatement and containment laws. Brown was reportedly so careless that the Detroit fire department had to intervene and wet down piles of rubbish and debris before asbestos became airborne.

Despite repeated violations recorded by the DEQ, Nick Schroeck, a law professor at Wayne State University, said that the city continued to use Brown’s services regardless. The law professor said it shows issues with city officials who have “a real problem with oversight.”

“Why has there been this really horrible lack of oversight on the part of the city?”

According to Brown’s lawyer, Brown said he thought that his subcontractors took care of the asbestos abatement. The contractor wants to continue working, despite having a previous suspension for violations in 2015. Brown’s two suspensions ended up costing around $2.5 million in business.

The troubles, however, began two years earlier in 2013, when Brown and his company started a job at Wendell Holmes Elementary School in southwest Detroit. They were asked to remove asbestos from the school before a scheduled demolition, but according to Brown, illegal scrappers broke in and ripped metals out of the school, leaving behind piles of asbestos dust. He said the boiler room had asbestos dust at least a feet deep. Children were playing around the school, potentially exposed to asbestos.

Prosecutors say that regardless, Brown still exposed his workers to asbestos when he continued on with the job. In November 2013, Brown settled with the DEQ and paid a $20,000 penalty. He also agreed to comply with asbestos and air quality laws, but by 2014, prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Brown for his careless job at the school. He signed a plea deal and ended up with two years on probation. He also surrendered his asbestos abatement license and promised not to do any abatement work while on probation.

By 2016, he was back to work but it wasn’t long before he was given DEQ violations for the 13 buildings. He was finally required to stop all work. He now claims he can’t even afford car insurance to get back and forth to work.

Help and Resources for Asbestos Victims

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