Joseph Cuellar, of Fresno; Rudolph Buendia, of Planada; Patrick Bowman, of Los Banos, have admitted guilty to breaching federal asbestos regulations. Cuellar, Buendia and Bowman are 73, 50 and 46 years old respectively.
According to their indictments, Cuellar was working as the administrative manager of a company called Firm Build. Bowman was the president of that firm and Buendia was the site supervisor of one of its construction projects when the firm operated a renovation and demolition project at former Castle Air Force Base located northeast of Atwater, California.
They had to transform Bldg. 325 into a training centre for Merced County Education Board. For carrying out that work, the trio hired local students from Merced Workplace Learning Academy, according to Benjamin Wagner, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California.
Court documents show that the students as well as the employees removed nearly 1000 linear ft. of piping insulation and tank insulation and disposed them of. All these 3 company executives were aware of the fact that they contained asbestos – a highly regulated substance in the United States.
For performing the task, the employees or the students were not given adequate protective equipment such as full-face masks, Tyvek suits, footwear coverings, caps, hair hoods and gloves. The employees and students were not asked to take any protective measures either – like wetting the materials containing asbestos, sealing asbestos waste in secure polythene bags etc. By failing to do such things, the 3 executives violated federal safety regulations, the court documents indicate.
Asbestos material became airborne at the time of illegal removal of the substance, according to federal prosecutors.
The careless handling of asbestos removal project exposed the employees of Firm Build, the students of Workplace Learning Academy, and other subcontractors on the site and their workers to toxic fibers of the material, according to the government.
Wagner said exposing young students to dangerous asbestos in order to reduce costs and save money is criminal. “It is much more than reckless – it’s criminal,” Wagner said.
He said the guilty pleas by the defendants is a clear warning that whoever choose to disregard environmental regulations for making profit will be sued and prosecuted. “They will face imprisonment,” Wagner said.
The trio will be sentenced on 3rd June by United States federal Judge Lawrence O’Neill. All the three face imprisonment of 2 years or more.