For asbestos abatement contractors in Maryland who are caught engaging in substandard work practices that provide a competitive edge but also endanger the environment and jeopardize the health of their employees, the ante is going up.
Effective October 1, the maximum fine for violating environmental laws pertaining to asbestos removal jumps from $5,000 to $25,000. This increase is part of a new asbestos worker protection law that also adds assurance that training and accreditation are consistent with federal law and that independent testing organizations administer examinations. An Asbestos Worker Protection Fund, into which specified penalties and fines are to be deposited, will be established and dedicated to stronger enforcement and additional outreach.
The new law follows the release of a report last November by the Laborers’ Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition (MAROC) that disclosed unscrupulous work practices at six non-union asbestos abatement contractors in the region (see Asbestos Abatement Toxic in Mid-Atlantic Region).
“In an effort to undercut our signatory contractors who adhere to all federal asbestos abatements regulations – and in complete disregard for the health of their own employees – these businesses engaged in shoddy and illegal work practices,” says LIUNA Vice President and Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager Dennis Martire. “With its steeper penalties, this new law levels the playing field and discourages this despicable behavior.”
Maryland lawmakers were further inspired to draft the legislation after hearing testimony from LIUNA representatives that included MAROC Director Steve Lanning, LHSFNA Director of Occupational Safety and Health Scott Schneider and several asbestos workers. The law was co-sponsored by Sen. Victor R. Ramirez (D – Prince George’s County) and Del. Tom Hucker (D – Montgomery County).
During abatement projects, tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air. Without proper protection procedures and PPE, they are easily inhaled and lodge deep in the lungs where they cause asbestosis and mesothelioma. Thousands of people die from these diseases every year.
Schneider says he is hopeful that the Maryland law signals the beginning of a trend. “While it has been years since asbestos was used in construction, many older buildings still contain it. Asbestos continues to be a potential threat to anyone who has a job in demolition or remodeling,” Schneider says. “My hope is that other states will follow Maryland’s lead and pass their own asbestos worker protection laws.”
[Janet Lubman Rathner]