Abatement Supervisor Pleads Guilty to Illegally Removing Asbestos
A New York man pleaded guilty today to illegally removing and disposing of asbestos.
According to court documents, during the summer of 2016, Gunay Yakup, 31, of Newburgh, joined an existing conspiracy to illegally remove asbestos from a former IBM site in Kingston. 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. Yakup, who had special asbestos abatement training, was hired as a worker and supervisor by an asbestos abatement company. On the job, he was pressured by other conspirators to expedite the removal of asbestos at the site. Doing so meant that Yakup and his crew violated the Clean Air Act’s “work practice standards,” which address how asbestos can be stripped, bagged, removed, and disposed of with relative safety. Yakup is scheduled to be sentenced on July 27 at 10 a.m. and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
“Nowadays, it can be no surprise that asbestos is present in older commercial and industrial buildings,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “What is surprising is that criminals still try to deal with that problem in dangerous ways to save a little cash. This prosecution serves to remind everyone of the real, personal risks of cutting those corners.”
“Yakup had the supervisor responsibility to ensure his workers properly removed hazardous asbestos material on this large project yet he knowingly broke the law,” said Special Agent Tyler Amon of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Criminal Investigation Division in New York. “Impeding inspectors from discovering the full scale and scope of the illegal conduct is underscored in the serious federal charges plead to today.”
Yakup admitted that he and his co-conspirators removed substantial amounts of RACM from the former IBM site in violation of these work practice standards, oftentimes dry and in a way that produced visible emissions. They also stored bulk quantities of RACM waste on site in open containers. Yakup and his crew were also pressured to do work in areas that were not properly prepped to prevent the release of RACM to the outside air. Upon finding Yakup’s crew working on Aug. 1, 2016, New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) inspectors documented bulk quantities of uncontained RACM inside and outside of containment, dry debris, and evidence of sweeping and other dry removal abatement techniques. NYSDOL inspectors then “red-tagged” the site and prohibited further abatement work.
The site was later deemed to be contaminated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other 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 the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section prosecuted the case with the assistance of paralegal Chloe Harris.