Zurbrugg Site Contractors Indicted for Unsafe Asbestos Removal
Officials said their actions allegedly caused the release of asbestos dust and debris.
Two men and the demolition company they operated have been indicted by a state grand jury on charges that they unlawfully removed asbestos from the former Zurbrugg Memorial Hospital in Riverside, without a license and using workers who were not trained or equipped to do the job safely, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced.
The Division of Criminal Justice obtained a state grand jury indictment charging Frank J. Rizzo, 53, of Parlin, Middlesex County; Michael Kouvaras, 59, of Maplewood, Essex County; and the company they ran, Deuteron Capital, LLC, doing business as South Street Fillit Recycling of Riverside, with conspiracy (second degree), unlawfully causing the release of a toxic pollutant (second degree), abandonment of toxic pollutants (second degree) and violating the Asbestos Control and Licensing Act (third degree).
The charges stem from a joint investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Environmental Crimes Unit and the Department of Corrections Special Investigations Division.
Between August 2010 and March 2011, the defendants allegedly used untrained day laborers, including inmates from a halfway house, to remove asbestos from the hospital buildings in connection with demolition at the site and their efforts to salvage valuable copper and steel. They allegedly engaged in asbestos removal without required licensing, and their illegal activities allegedly caused the release of asbestos dust and debris.
Kouvaras, the owner of South Street, and Rizzo, the project organizer, allegedly directed unlicensed workers to remove asbestos or asbestos-containing material, bury approximately 50 bags of asbestos in the ground, and dump bags of asbestos on the floor of a boiler room so that it would appear that vandals had removed the asbestos while stealing copper and steel.
“These men knew there was asbestos throughout this old hospital and knew the real dangers involved in removing it, but we allege that they put their monetary self-interest ahead of the health and safety of their workers and the surrounding community,” said Chiesa.
These offenses carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison.
In early 2010, Rizzo solicited the owner of the Zurbrugg site for the contract to demolish the hospital. South Street was given the contract, which specified that the company would retain all of the proceeds from the recycling of metal and arrange for and pay all demolition costs, including asbestos abatement and disposal. An engineering report on the hospital buildings, which was provided to the defendants, identified extensive asbestos throughout the structures.
The defendants initially retained a licensed asbestos abatement contractor, which provided the required 10-day notice of its intent to perform asbestos abatement at the site to the Department of Labor, Department of Health & Senior Services and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. However, the defendants paid only a few thousand dollars of the 10 percent deposit required by the contractor to start the work. The contractor estimated abatement would cost about $220,000. The licensed contractor worked only one day at the site, removing a small amount of asbestos.
The defendants allegedly used day laborers, including inmates from Clinton House, a work release halfway house in Trenton, to remove asbestos from sections of the hospital, without following the requirements of federal and state laws to prevent the release of toxic asbestos dust and debris. For example, the workers stripped insulation containing asbestos from pipes and a boiler, so that copper pipes, wire and other metals could be salvaged. It is alleged that the workers did not wear protective equipment, with the exception of paper masks, which are not authorized as safe for asbestos removal. The workers quickly took off the paper masks because the masks made it difficult to breathe.
The workers placed materials containing asbestos into black plastic bags, and some of the bags were placed in a roll-off container provided by a waste transportation company. Disposal manifests show 25 bags and 100 bags respectively were removed by a licensed hauler and disposed of at a lawful facility.
Division of Criminal Justice detectives executed a search warrant at the site on Filmore Street on March 28, 2011, and discovered material containing asbestos strewn on the floor of the boiler room. They found a roll-off container holding over 200 plastic bags of materials, 30 of which were tested and found to contain asbestos. They also uncovered two bags containing asbestos tiles buried in the ground during limited excavation at the site.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 has taken jurisdiction of the site, which is being evaluated for asbestos removal action.
The state investigation began in early 2011 when the Department of Corrections (DOC) Special Investigations Division received a tip that inmates were being used to remove asbestos at the site. DOC alerted the Division of Criminal Justice, which joined the investigation. The Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Health & Senior Services and Department of Labor & Workforce Development assisted with the investigation, including helping with the execution of search warrants at the Zurbrugg site and South Street offices beginning on March 28, 2011.
Supervising Deputy Attorney General Betty Rodriguez and Deputy Attorney General Mary Erin McAnally presented the case to the state grand jury. The investigation was conducted for the Environmental Crimes Unit, within the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, by Sgt. Steven Ogulin, Detective Dawn Ryan, Detective Michael Klumpp, SDAG Rodriguez and DAG McAnally. The investigation was led for the Department of Corrections Special Investigations Division by Principal Investigator Daniel Klotz.
—Submitted by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General