Developer Sentenced in Florida Asbestos Case
A developer who hired cheap day labor to tear asbestos-laden popcorn ceilings out of a dilapidated apartment building has been found guilty of negligently causing the release of asbestos and placing others in “imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury,” reports an article in the Tampa Bay Times.
The defendant was sentenced to 48 months of probation and must also pay $250,000 to set up a medical monitoring and treatment program for the individuals who were harmed, to be administered by the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health.
Philip J. Farley III, who was indicted on several federal charges, purchased the run-down St. Petersburg, Florida apartment complex in 2010.
Anxious to get started with refurbishment, he hired at least 90 unsuspecting individuals to handle the asbestos ceilings and other demolition tasks, providing no warning about what was in that “popcorn”.
That means the men wore no protective gear and were not trained in properly removing the toxic material, which should have been wet before removal.
In renovating the 480-unit complex, Farley’s “primary concern was with his bottom line, which is entirely reasonable for a businessperson, but he is then responsible for the consequences of those decisions,” federal prosecutors said of the defendant, who certainly escaped the most serious charges, being found guilty on only a single misdemeanor count.
Farley had purchased the property for $6.8 million from St. Petersburg’s Housing Authority, which wanted to use the proceeds to provide affordable housing in more scattered locations, the newspaper reports.
He recognized that the property, once housing elderly and disabled residents, was “rough” and would be purchased in as-is condition.
But he obtained no asbestos surveys on the property even though the sales contract noted the presence of the hazardous material.
While the day laborers were scraping the popcorn texture from ceilings, they “generated large amounts of dusts and debris,” Farley’s plea agreement stated, adding that some of it blew through open windows into the neighborhood.
The remainder was swept into wheelbarrows, trash cans, and trash bags, then was carted to open-top dumpsters, where it was left to blow around some more.
During that time, “none of the workers were trained in the proper removal of asbestos-containing materials,” the agreement said. “None of the workers were provided with or wore more protection than a basic paper or fiber dusk mask.”
Now, those individuals will face a lifetime of worry as to whether they will eventually develop an asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma, and because the disease usually takes decades to develop, it could be a long time before they know the answer to their concerns.