Exposing Workers to Asbestos Could Cost Illinois Firm $1.2 Million

Federal regulators are seeking $1.2 million in fines from an Illinois advertising-display firm that they say willfully exposed five of its workers to cancer-causing asbestos.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Wednesday that the employer, AMD Industries, required the five workers to remove asbestos without giving them proper training or protective gear for the job.

The Cicero, Ill., company was cited for 19 willful and eight serious health violations related to an OSHA inspection in December, 2010. A willful violation, the most severe OSHA offense, means that regulators believe that an employer has shown an intentional disregard for the law or plain indifference to employee safety and health

In 2002, AMD found asbestos on boilers, heating units and piping, OSHA said. In late 2010, the company began removing the carcinogenic material.

Employees who, OSHA says, were not trained for the job cut through materials containing 20 percent to 50 percent asbestos with power saws and then swept the dust, allowing it to fly into the air, without adequate respiratory protection.

AMD sent the contaminated pipes to a Chicago scrapyard, and workers there notified the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which in turn contacted OSHA as well as the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

Workers were not provided with clothing, nor were other steps taken, to prevent them from carrying asbestos to their cars and homes, OSHA said.

“Such disregard will not be tolerated,” U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis said, in the OSHA news release. ”No one should risk serious illness or death to earn a paycheck.”

The company has 15 business days to accept OSHA’s penalties, request a conference with OSHA or contest the agency’s findings. AMD officials could not be reached for comment.

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