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Monroe Man, Brother Sentenced For Endangering Workers’ Lives

Federal Courthouse in New Haven. Photo Credit: U.S. Federal Courthouses
The 200 block of Wallace Street in New Haven. Photo Credit: Google Maps

Two property owners in the area have been sentenced for their roles in the illegal and dangerous removal of asbestos in a building they were renovating.

Brothers Klinton Rakaj, 39, of Monroe and Rezart Rakaj, 35, of Ansonia were sentenced to one year of probation, fined $9,500 and will have to complete 50 hours of community service after pleading guilty to one count of illegal asbestos removal in violation of the Clean Air Act last year.

In November 2015, the brothers and another family member purchased a commercial property on Wallace Street in New Haven, U.S. Attorney John Durham said.  Prior to purchasing the property, the realtor informed the purchasers that the property contained asbestos, and that a prior potential purchaser had already obtained a bid of approximately $117,000 for the legal asbestos abatement of the property.

Durham said that shortly after making the purchase, the three family members chose not to hire a firm to legally remove the asbestos and instead employed workers who spent multiple days demolishing portions of the property, ripping out piping, breaking tiles, and conducting other renovation and construction activities, including the removal of significant quantities of friable asbestos.

On Nov. 20, 2015, inspectors from the New Haven Health Department received an anonymous complaint, and discovered the illegal asbestos removal at the Wallace Street property.

According to Durham, the inspection revealed multiple instances of illegal removal of asbestos-containing “air cell” pipe wrap and asbestos-containing “mag block” tank and boiler insulation, both of which contain significant quantities of dangerous, friable asbestos. Inspectors also observed workers removing asbestos-containing material and throwing it to the floor.

“The workers performed no wetting, used no negative air machines to create the required vacuum effect within workspaces and set up no critical barriers or protective sheeting to guard against the release of dangerous asbestos fibers into the environment,” Durham said. “Though the workers wore dust masks and suits, the masks were not designed for use in asbestos abatement and failed to provide protection against asbestos fibers. Similarly, because the suits were worn repeatedly over the course of days and not decontaminated and disposed of after use, they did not protect the workers against exposure.”

In total, inspectors found upwards of 150 standard garbage bags filled with materials containing asbestos. The brothers pleaded guilty on Nov. 16 last year.

“These defendants recklessly cut corners and endangered the lives of their workers,” he said. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committing to prosecuting all who deliberately harm the environment and risk public health in order to save money.”

Durham noted that the brothers are also facing fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

“The illegal removal of asbestos insulation and the associated removal of scrap pipe and boilers from old buildings continues to be a problem throughout the Northeast,” EPA Criminal Investigation Division Special Agent in Charge Tyler Amon added.  “Inhalation of asbestos fibers can result in lung cancer and it, therefore, poses significant health risks to all exposed.  EPA will continue to hold accountable those who commit such offenses.”

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