Daniel Watterson, a Worcester-area plumbing and heating contractor, was ordered to serve 60 days of a 2-year jail sentence for a child endangerment charge and asbestos violations. This sentence came after a Worcester Superior Court jury found Watterson guilty of three charges of violating the Massachusetts Clean Air Act for Failure to File Notices of Asbestos Removal with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), Improper Removal of Asbestos-Containing Material, Improper Disposal of Asbestos-Containing Materials, as well as Child Endangerment. This was the first use of the child endangerment statute in an asbestos case, extending the trend by regulators to use all appropriate laws and regulations to maximize penalties in asbestos removal violation cases.
In April 2008, Watterson was hired to remove two boilers from a Worcester residence and replace them with new boilers. To complete the job, Watterson hired a teenager to perform the removal work. This work included removal of insulation from the old boilers, demolition of the boilers, and disposal of the waste. The teenager was not provided with protective clothing, a respirator, or protective equipment to use during the removal process. Furthermore, the teenager did not wet the asbestos to prevent dust and particles from spreading throughout the air, before ripping out the insulation and chipping it away with a putty knife. The boilers were then demolished using a sledgehammer and saw, before being thrown out in a dumpster rented by Watterson.
Watterson’s charges stemmed from a failure to comply with MassDEP and Division of Labor Standards regulations. These regulations require that removal of asbestos be conducted by a licensed contractor. A licensed contractor must use protective equipment and air filtration machines, contain the area where the asbestos is removed, wet the asbestos before removal, and give notice to MassDEP regarding when the removal will occur.
According to the Attorney General’s Press Release, Watterson engaged in other violations of Massachusetts law, resulting in charges of larceny over $250 of a victim over sixty years of age and larceny over $250 by false pretenses. On July 3, 2014, he was sentenced to one year in the House of Correction, but the sentence was suspended for 5 years with probation. As a condition of probation, Watterson must pay restitution to the victims of the 2013 larceny charges. Watterson also received probation for the child endangerment charge and Clean Air violations, conditions of which require him to pay for an annual medical examination of the teenager he hired for asbestos removal to make sure the teen has not suffered any long-term health effects.
After the 1970s, state governments enacted complicated and overlapping regulatory regimes for asbestos removal. These regulations have been used to issue heavy fines and impose criminal liability. This case appears to follow the recent trend of imposing severe civil and criminal penalties for asbestos removal violations. In March of 2014, two cases in New Jersey and Washington involved defendants’ who received severe fines and relatively lengthy jail sentences for asbestos violations. The fact that the Child Endangerment statute was used in Watterson’s case suggests that state attorneys will continue to aggressively prosecute asbestos removal violations. The complex regulations and severe penalties may be viewed by some as excessive punishment for workers who are simply ignorant of the law and the dangers of asbestos. Regardless of one’s views of the severity of the penalties, these cases should act as a warning to individuals working with and around asbestos to be certain that they follow the mandatory rules for safe removal.