After Asbestos Inspection Fraud, New York City Boosts Oversight

07/28/2010 // Chicago, IL, USA // Cooney & Conway // Mesothelioma lawyers: Cooney & Conway

(Mesothelioma News) – In the wake of a stunning asbestos inspection fraud—potentially putting thousands at increased risk for asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer—New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced it has taken steps to ensure better oversight of nearly 550 licensed asbestos inspectors.

The measures will include increased auditing and spot-checking of the inspectors, along with better communication among the various agencies charged with enforcing asbestos regulations.

Even so, mesothelioma lawyers—who have brought and often won countless asbestos lawsuits stemming from negligent or otherwise unsafe asbestos handling—say this is only a beginning and the complexity and cost of proper asbestos handling will still tempt many employers and building owners to cut corners, with potentially deadly results.

The fraud that triggered the changes was stunning in both its scope and duration.

Earlier this year, an asbestos inspector, Saverio F. Todaro, confirmed in federal court he had falsified hundreds of reports concluding that city structures were free of asbestos, a building material that has long been linked to various cancers, including mesothelioma, a nearly always fatal cancer of the protective lining covering many of the body’s internal organs.

While mesothelioma can take years—even decades—to develop, its diagnosis is invariably grim. Even as mesothelioma lawyers have obtained jury awards and settlements in the millions of dollars, medical researchers are still a long way from a cure or even a promising treatment for the condition.

Because asbestos is most dangerous when it is airborne—when asbestos fibers can easily be inhaled into the lungs—renovation and demolition work that can dislodge the material and release it into the air is particularly troublesome. That’s why proper testing and inspections are essential.

Todaro, who ran an environmental inspection and testing service, admitted that he had submitted negative asbestos test findings for at least a ten years or more—without conducting any asbestos testing. Many of the buildings involved have since been torn down and replaced with new ones, or gutted and renovated. As a result, it’s impossible to know exactly how much harm, and how much risk for mesothelioma and other deadly diseases, his actions caused.

What is clear, however, is that the agencies tasked with monitoring asbestos inspectors like Todaro—who faces up to five years in prison when he appears for sentencing in August—did not have in place the processes that would have alerted them to a problem.

For example, Todaro’s asbestos inspection certification had been suspended in 2004 by the environmental agency—citing poor building surveys and improper record keeping—but due to the breakdown in communication between city agencies, he was able to continue to perform asbestos evaluations for developers and building owners, who then obtained permits to raze or renovate properties from the city’s Buildings Department.

“The fact that Mr. Todaro continued to conduct asbestos-related investigations following the suspension of his license raised concerns about whether there are sufficient safeguards in place to ensure that only properly licensed [certified asbestos inspectors] conduct asbestos investigations in New York City,” DEP Commissioner Cas Holloway told Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Holloway’s conclusions were part of a June 28 memorandum to the mayor, in which he outlined the results of a two-month internal review.

As part of its enhanced oversight measures, DEP says it will now computerize its filing system and share information with federal, state, and city agencies. It will also substantially increase audits and spot checks of inspectors in the field.

New protocols, wrote Holloway, will include “an Internet-based filing system for asbestos, which will automatically reject reports by any asbestos investigator whose certification has been suspended or revoked.” The agency will also increase the amount of audits it conducts yearly from 40 to 75. Two additional asbestos inspection monitors have been hired also.

Yet better oversight—while welcome—will only go so far, say mesothelioma lawyers, who note that even now DEP will be able to review the records and activities of just 15 percent of the hundreds of asbestos inspectors it certifies.

This news story was brought to you by the mesothelioma lawyers at Cooney & Conway. For more than half a century, we’ve brought relief—and recovery—to those injured by the negligence or harmful actions of others. In the process, we’ve litigated some of the country’s most significant asbestos lawsuits, helping victims of mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases get answers—and justice.

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