In a development that brings environmental crime into stark focus, a grand jury in Bristol County has indicted three developers and their companies on 104 counts of violating the state’s Clean Air Act. The indictment follows an investigation into the demolition of the former Healy Elementary School in Fall River, Massachusetts. Attorney General Andrea Campbell’s office made the announcement, painting a grim picture of a community exposed to asbestos, a dangerous carcinogen, for several months.
As first reported in the Boston Globe; Eric Resendes, Richard Miranda Sr., and Richard Miranda Jr., along with their companies Spindle City Homes Inc. and Diversified Roofing Systems Inc., stand accused of knowingly releasing asbestos into the air during the demolition process. Court records indicate that they will be arraigned in Bristol County Superior Court soon. These accusations, if proven, cast a spotlight on the dark underbelly of construction and demolition processes that prioritize profit over public safety.
According to Attorney General Campbell, the developers not only failed to adequately remove asbestos from the school but went a step further by crushing the asbestos with lead and lingering debris. They then spread this dangerous powder all over the demolition site and nearby residential properties. Despite directives from the state’s Environmental Protection Department to contain the spread of this hazardous material, the defendants allegedly ignored or failed to follow through, putting the local community at significant risk.
This incident didn’t just pose an immediate health risk; it had a lasting impact over several months. According to Campbell’s office, the improper handling of hazardous materials exposed workers and residents to asbestos, lead, and dust for a seven-month period. The neighborhood, which includes five schools, one nursing home, and six daycare centers, in addition to approximately 18,000 residents, was thus under a consistent cloud of toxic materials.
The seriousness of the situation cannot be overstated. Asbestos exposure carries severe health risks that can lead to irreversible lung damage and is even known to cause cancer. The state’s Clean Air Act strictly regulates the management and disposal of asbestos, and each violation can be a potential death sentence for those exposed to it.
What makes the case even more egregious is that neither of the Miranda defendants were licensed asbestos contractors, as required by law. Furthermore, the indictment alleges that they applied for a demolition permit with a false report claiming the asbestos was adequately removed. Shortly after demolition began in the summer of 2018, state authorities received complaints from neighbors about excessive amounts of dust being generated. Inspections revealed a flagrant violation of environmental protection laws, but the damage was done. Material containing asbestos had already been scattered on the road, neighbors’ properties, and across the site.
Even after being issued a cease-and-desist order, the defendants essentially abandoned the site, leaving hazardous material exposed for more than six months. Some measures were put in place, like covering part of the site with a plastic sheet, but these were woefully insufficient, allowing asbestos fibers to become airborne and spread to adjacent properties.
By abandoning their responsibility, the developers forced intervention from federal agencies, resulting in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency having to shell out nearly $2 million to remove the hazardous materials safely. In a rather audacious move, one of the indicted developers, represented by his company’s attorney, told the EPA that his company did not have the financial resources to carry out the mandated cleanup and that the federal agency was free to do it instead.
In conclusion, the indictment of these three developers and their companies highlights the urgent need for stringent regulation and oversight in the demolition and construction industry. Violations such as this not only erode public trust but put entire communities at serious risk. As Attorney General Campbell stated, protecting the health of families, children, seniors, and residents is a priority. For the sake of public safety, it’s crucial that those who flout environmental laws and regulations are held accountable for their actions.