A property developer in Avon, NY, has recently been convicted under the Clean Air Act. He has received a two year probation sentence, as well as 150 hours of community service. Frank P. Geraci, Chief U.S. District Court Judge, has also ordered 32-year old Anastasios ‘Taso’ Kolokouris to pay a $15,000 fine. He will also have to pay for all of the victims’ restitution.
Violation of Work Practice Standards
Sentence was passed down on June 20, 2016, after it was found that Kolokouris was in violation of work practice standards in the Clean Air Act, which set down rules for asbestos removal and disturbance. The case was handled by Craig R. Gestring, Assistant U.S. Attorney.
Kolokouris owns the 920 Exchange Street, Rochester warehouse. A complaint had been received in which it was outlined by the Asbestos Control Bureau of the New York State Department of Labor that, on December 13, 2011, one of their operatives had visited the warehouse. During this visit, a number of people were found to be working next to a loading dock in a large dumpster. One of these workers was a 16-year old child. The inspector spotted white fibrous materials in and around the dumpster, and these were later confirmed to be asbestos. The inspector also reported that none of the workers had personal protective equipment, nor were there any warning signs present on the dumpster to show asbestos was present.
The situation was even made worse by the fact that the warehouse is flanked by Exchange Street and Violetta Street residential properties. Additionally, right outside the main gate, there is a school bus stop. It is therefore not clear how many people could potentially have been affected by the presence of asbestos.
The inspector spoke to the workers who then contacted Kolokouris. However, they were then told not to speak to the inspector, and to lock the gate. Nevertheless, the inspector was able to take samples from the materials, which were then confirmed to be asbestos.
The inspector proceeded to notify the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s criminal investigators. They immediately secured the site under a federal search warrant and attended wearing full containment suits. They discovered more than 90 bags of friable, dry asbestos in the area of the loading dock. Furthermore, contamination was found in an area of more than 150,000 square feet. Various samples were taken and all tested positive for asbestos. Further evidence clearly linked Kolokouris to the illegal activities.
Interviews with Workers
Numerous workers were interviewed, who told worrying stories of Kolokouris frequently hiring them to perform jobs on other sites, including removing asbestos from the dumpster in return for cash. However, none of these workers were trained in proper asbestos removal. It was also confirmed that one worker was only 16, and that both him and his mother had been picked up by Kolokouris to remove the asbestos. Workers were provided with nothing but dust masks during their work.
The evidence was presented at trial and Kolokouris pleaded guilty to exposing workers to asbestos.
“Anastasios “Taso” Kolokouris, 32, pleaded guilty Tuesday to violating federal Clean Air asbestos work standards. “Simply to save money, this defendant knowingly exposed untrained, temporary workers to asbestos — a highly dangerous substance long known to cause cancer,” U.S. Attorney William Hochul Jr. said in a statement.”
Asbestos has been designated as a hazardous air pollutant by the EPA since 1971. Additionally, significant scientific data exists that demonstrates asbestos has numerous hazardous effects on health, not just on those directly exposed to asbestos, but also through secondhand exposure. Specifically, it can cause asbestosis, a debilitating lung disease, and also mesothelioma and other forms of cancer (lung, stomach, esophagus, colon, and more). The situation is so severe that even Congress has had to make an official statement about it.
“The Congress finds that medical science has not established any minimum level of exposure to asbestos fibers which is considered to be safe to individuals exposed to the fibers.”
Extensive Investigation by EPA Special Agents
Kolokouris’ sentence is reflective of the culmination of the extensive investigation and work by EPA Special Agents. Operatives of the Criminal Investigation Division were directed by Vernesa Jones-Allen, Special Agent In Charge. Additionally, they were joined by investigators from the BECI (New York state Department of Environmental Conservation Police), who were directed by Captain John Burke. Also forming part of the investigation was the New York State Department of Labor’s Asbestos Control Bureau, which was directed by Eileen Franco. The team was completed by City of Rochester Police Department officers, who were directed by Chief Michael Criminelli.
Unfortunately, while sentence has been passed down for Kolokouris, his workers have effectively been given a life sentence. The latency period of asbestos related illnesses can be as much as 50 years. As such, it is not known whether any of them will develop the illnesses.