New York - A New York woman pleaded guilty today to illegally removing and disposing of asbestos.
According to court documents, between 2015 and 2016, Stephanie Laskin, 45, of Newburgh, along with several others, conspired to illegally remove asbestos from a former IBM site in Kingston, now known as TechCity. The facility in question contained over 400,000 square feet of regulated asbestos-containing material (RACM), as well as an additional 6,000 linear feet of RACM pipe wrap.
Laskin, the owner of A2 Environmental Services (A2ES), who had special asbestos abatement training, hired numerous workers and supervisors to conduct the asbestos removal. She and her co-conspirators pressured these workers to expedite the removal of asbestos at the site to meet contract deadlines. In doing so, she led them to cut corners, violate their remediation training, and handle RACM in dangerous and illegal ways.
At times, she and other A2ES supervisors, including Gunay Yakup who pleaded guilty in March, instructed workers to remove RACM dry. Wetting is required by law and helps to prevent airborne asbestos fibers. When the workers questioned her, Laskin gave them the choice of following her directions or losing their jobs. This resulted in numerous violations of the Clean Air Act’s “work practice standards,” which address how asbestos can be stripped, bagged, removed, and disposed of with relative safety. Laskin is scheduled to be sentenced on July 27 and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
“Defendant Laskin went into this project with her eyes open, planning to do it on the cheap,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). “But, that meant doing this project in knowing violation of the law and her supervisor training, placing others at risk of inhaling asbestos fibers. This criminal prosecution holds her accountable.”
Laskin admitted that she and her supervisors, workers, and other co-conspirators removed substantial amounts of RACM from the site in violation of the work-practice standards and were issued numerous notices of violation (NOVs) associated with dry removal, storing bulk quantities of RACM waste on-site in open containers, failing to properly contain work areas to avoid discharges of RACM to the outside air, sweeping dry RACM in ways that produced visible emissions, and conducting work outside containment and other dry removal abatement techniques. In light of the repeated violations, New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) inspectors issued “red tags” for the site on Aug.1, 2016, which stopped all work and ended Laskin’s company’s illegal abatement efforts.
The site was later deemed to be contaminated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and municipal authorities. Cleanup costs associated with asbestos contamination at the site are estimated to be in the millions. Asbestos has been determined to cause lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma, an invariably fatal disease. The EPA has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
Special agents of the EPA and individuals from the New York Departments of Labor and Environmental Conservation investigated the case. Todd W. Gleason and Gary N. Donner of ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section prosecuted the case with the assistance of paralegal Chloe Harris.