TALLAHASSEE - November 28 - The U.S. Air Force contends that two controversial Florida environmental companies and their affiliates supplied crews of illegal aliens with false ID’s to do asbestos removal at a supposedly secure special operations facility, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In addition to exposing the workers to health hazards, the firms illegally dumped asbestos waste into an open air disposal facility, thereby creating public health risks.
Under a complaint initiated by the U.S. Air Force, Big Wheel Recycling, Aztec Environmental, Inc., and their affiliates in Bay County would be barred from receiving any federal contracts for an indefinite period of time. The Air Force points to a joint investigation by the FBI, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Customs enforcement agents who “identified several illegal aliens employed by [the companies] with access to Air Force installations.” The government also says the immigrant workers had “fictitious social security” numbers. One base where the firms conducted asbestos removal work is Hurlburt Field, a special operations base on the coast of Florida’s Panhandle.
In addition to the immigration and security breaches, the Air Force cites the Florida businesses for –
- Violations of “the Clean Air Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), Florida public health statutes, and implementing regulations [that] prescribe the proper handling of asbestos containing material in connection with demolition and renovation activities;”
- Improper disposal of friable asbestos in a way that released harmful asbestos fibers into the open air, to the detriment of both workers and the neighboring public; and
- “Interference with Environmental Inspection and Record Keeping” requirements, including “falsification of documentation, and implementation of methods to conceal violations…”
The federal charges parallel the substance of a series of reports compiled by Florida PEER which has been seeking prosecution of the firms under state environmental laws. The watchdog group has filed complaints about groundwater contamination, illegal asbestos disposal and improper permitting of the waste disposal operation at the Big Wheel site.
“These charges represent only the tip of a very dirty iceberg,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former enforcement attorney for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “The reason that there has been no state action is that Florida DEP stands as the un-indicted co-conspirator in this scandal.”
PEER has also called for a grand jury investigation into a myriad of problems within the Northwest District Office of DEP, including the role of campaign contributions in hiring practices and the lack of enforcement actions at Big Wheel. Thus far, local prosecutors have yet to act on the complaint.
“These violations have been occurring for years under DEP’s nose but they have taken no action except to promote the officials who impeded enforcement and put the public in jeopardy,” Phillips added, referring to DEP Northwest District Director Mary Jean Yon who, in response to PEER document requests, repeatedly insisted the firms were in environmental compliance even though her own inspectors kept reporting violations. Yon has since been promoted to DEP headquarters and placed in charge of all state waste disposal regulation. “At DEP, when you screw up you move up.”