State fines asbestos firm, months after union protested demolition at shuttered GM plant

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The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has fined the company removing asbestos from the former General Motors plant near Newport, saying it was unsafely disposing of the cancer-causing material. 

In a violation notice, Delaware’s chief environmental regulator, Shawn Garvin, stated the Pennsylvania company was removing the asbestos in a way that caused “large amounts of particulates” to waft into the air.

What resulted was a visible residue of asbestos along surfaces, Garvin said in the notice, which marked the end of a department investigation. 

Asbestos, a naturally occurring material, can cause lung cancer years or even decades after breathing it in.  

The findings prompted DNREC to fine the asbestos company, EcoServices, LLC, and its foreman $20,000 each for violating emission standards for hazardous air pollutants.

They were fined an additional $13,000 for the cost of the DNREC investigation. They have 30 days to appeal.

DNREC found that the foreman, Derick Maxwell, had “refused to take any action” when his employees alerted him to problems at the site.  

Maxwell could not be reached for comment.

An attorney for EcoServices, a licensed environmental contractor based in Exton, Pennsylvania, did not reply to an email requesting comment on Friday.

In a statement, Newport developer Harvey Hanna and Associates – which owns the plant and hired EcoServices – said, “We have only recently learned of the issue between DNREC and EcoServices, and out of respect for the regulatory process, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time.”

A spokesman for Harvey Hanna said the asbestos abatement has been completed.

Once the worksite for thousands of people employed in Delaware’s auto industry, Harvey Hanna bought the former GM property on Boxwood Road in 2017. 

The company said it will build a logistics center that could employ 2,000 people.

The DNREC sanction appears to vindicate members of the Delaware AFL-CIO who four months ago protested conditions of the non-union worksite.

It was a demonstration that brought inflatable rats and even police to picket lines, sparking formal claims of worker intimidation.

Delaware AFL-CIO President James Maravelias said the DNREC fine “sends a message” to out-of-state contractors.   

“Maybe it will wake some people up to start using local people and local contractors to do their work – union or non-union,” he said.  

During their protest, union members had been circulating a video of the abatement, which they said showed dangerous asbestos “snow” wafting over the site. A union member, who had gone undercover at the worksite pretending to be a non-union laborer, recorded the footage in February.

In April, a community meeting two miles from the plant turned raucous when neighbors viewed the video. With DNREC officials in attendance, many called for the demolition to be stopped immediately.  

“Why can’t it be shut down?” asked one man “Why do we keep talking about it, and talking about it.” 

In a response, Harvey Hanna officials at the time said that air quality at the site never surpassed unsafe levels based on results from monitoring devices.

As the AFL-CIO protested outside the demolition site in early March, federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials received a tip that EcoServices was removing asbestos unsafely.

OSHA staff visited the site, along with DNREC employees.

During the visit, officials from Harvey Hanna, Ecoservices and the general demolition company, Atlantic Coastal Dismantling, reported that abatement work had been ongoing “without issues,” Garvin stated in the violation notice.    

Following the visit, DNREC reviewed the video, recorded by the union worker, and used its contents to inform its investigation. 

It “appeared to depict numerous particles suspended in the air and blowing through the workplace,” Garvin said.

 Contact Karl Baker at kbaker@delawareonline.com or (302) 324-2329. Follow him on Twitter @kbaker6.

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