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Virginia Man Goes to Jail for Using Homeless for Improper Asbestos Removal

Release Date: 08/01/2007
Contact Information: Roxanne Smith, (202) 564-4355 /

(Washington, D.C. - Aug. 1, 2007) John Edward Callahan, a two-time convicted felon, has been sentenced to 21 months in prison for improperly removing cancer-causing asbestos from a building in Roanoke without following federal environmental laws according to the U.S. Attorney's Office and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Callahan also used homeless men to conduct the work.

"The defendant not only broke a law designed to protect the public from exposure to a known carcinogen like asbestos, but also used untrained and vulnerable homeless people to do the work for him," said Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Today's sentence shows that those who put the health of the public at risk in order to make illegal profits will be prosecuted."

The owner of the building hired Callahan to remove asbestos-containing material from a building in March 2004. Callahan hired three homeless men to do the work, knowing the men were not certified or properly trained to remove asbestos. Callahan paid each man $10 per hour for over three days of work.

Callahan did not provide the homeless men with adequate protective gear and instructed them to cut the asbestos-containing material with knives and hack saws without first wetting it, which is required by federal law to safely remove asbestos. By not wetting the materials first, the men created harmful asbestos dust which could be inhaled into their lungs. As part of the investigation, the EPA's forensic laboratory in Denver, Colo., conducted sampling and analysis of the materials and confirmed the presence of asbestos.

Asbestos is a carcinogen and exposure can result in serious or fatal respiratory diseases, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Asbestos is commonly used in thermal insulation, fireproofing and other building materials. When asbestos-containing materials become damaged or disturbed, the fibers separate and may become airborne and inhaled into the lungs. The EPA requires anyone disturbing building materials that may contain asbestos keep the materials wet in order to prevent the fibers from becoming airborne.

In this case, the asbestos containing material was placed in unmarked garbage bags and was neither properly sealed in leak-tight containers while wet nor labeled with the proper warning labels. Callahan hired a trash hauler to dispose of the asbestos waste at a landfill in Roanoke. Although the landfill had a special area for asbestos-containing material, the waste was improperly disposed of because Callahan failed to identify the waste.

Another company had to be hired at a cost of $12,000 to properly remove the asbestos from the Roanoke building after Callahan started the job. Last February, Callahan pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Clean Air Act by knowingly removing asbestos-containing materials without following environmental laws.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency's Criminal Investigation Division, the City of Roanoke Police Department, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennie Waering and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney David Lastra.

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