Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Criminal Charges Possible for Metro East Contractor Accused of Exposing Workers to Asbestos

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Criminal Charges Possible for Metro East Contractor Accused of Exposing Workers to Asbestos

Article excerpt

An Albers, Ill.-based contractor who allegedly exposed his workers to asbestos could face criminal prosecution.

"We're discussing whether to refer the matter to the Justice Department for possible criminal charges," Scott Allen, spokesman for the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, said Wednesday.

It would be up to the Justice Department to decide what charges to file, if any, he said.

OSHA cited Joseph Kehrer and two of his companies, Kehrer Brothers Construction and D7 Roofing, for withholding from workers information that there was asbestos in the materials they were removing from an Okawville school, for failing to train them in how to safely remove the materials, and for failing to give them the proper tools and equipment for removing the materials safely.

OSHA last week proposed fines against Kehrer and his two companies that total $1,939,000. They have until Aug. 28 to contest the penalty.

Asbestos can cause lung disease and mesothelioma, a type of lung or stomach cancer that is almost always fatal. When workers improperly cut or sand asbestos-containing building materials, they release asbestos fibers into the air. Without proper protection, the workers can inhale or swallow the cancer-causing fibers. And without proper decontamination areas and procedures, they can carry the fibers on their clothes to public places and their houses and expose others to the hazard.

Many of Kehrer's workers were temporary immigrants, who did not speak English. They came to the United States to work under the H- 2B visa program, which lets employers bring workers in from other countries if they can't find Americans to do the work.

"This guy had full control of them. He was providing them housing and transportation. They were at his mercy and it was unacceptable how he treated them," Allen said.

OSHA alleges that Kehrer threatened to fire workers, which would result in deportation, if they talked to OSHA investigators, but some of them did anyway. If Kehrer had been able to keep the workers away from OSHA for six months, he might have escaped citations and penalties. "By law, we have to complete an investigation within six months," Allen said. …

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