January 8, a Virginia environmental services company and one
of its employees were sentenced for making false statements
about the way they procured asbestos training certificates
that permitted their company employees to remove asbestos
from Langley Air Force Base and a NASA Research Center, both
in Hampton, Virginia.
is that such a big deal? Because asbestos is now known
to be a hugely dangerous substance that, released into the
air, can cause cancer, lung disease, and many other illnesses.
wasn't always so. And that's the problem. Asbestos is
a mineral that is fabulously strong, insulates well, and resists
fire and corrosion. AND it is fibrous and can be woven into
cloth or insulation bats. The emperor Charlemagne, in fact,
is said to have amazed his guests by throwing an asbestos
tablecloth into the fire to launder it. So, given these outstanding
qualities, asbestos began to be used widely by the construction
industry in the U.S. around 1900 as insulation for homes,
offices, boats, just about any kind of building. Not until
some 70 years later was the true danger of asbestos discovered.
And that's when its removal began to be regulated by government.
do you make sure asbestos is removed properly? There's
really only one way: carefully training people as asbestos
specialists. In Virginia, for example, that means special
training companies are permitted to issue Training Certificates
to individuals that attest they have, according to state and
federal government requirements, completed stringent training
courses and passed a test demonstrating knowledge of the subject
Environmental Technology, Inc. was one such training company,
owned by Frankland Babonis.
case of the "certificate for a price" scam.
In February 2000, the FBI's Washington Field Office received
allegations that F&M was selling its training certificates
for a price--no need to take any or all training; no need
to pass the test--clearly posing a threat that untrained specialists
would would improperly release asbestos into the air and inhaled
by unsuspecting victims. This allegation was confirmed by
another made to the Criminal Investigative Division of EPA--and
a case was opened.
time, agents discovered that F&M had allegedly sold certificates
to people working on projects at the Pentagon, the Departments
of Defense and Transportation, GSA, NASA, state and local
agencies, and a number of school systems... and the law enforcement
arms of NASA, Defense, the Airforce, the Army, the Navy, and
the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation
joined the case.
2001, F&M and Mr. Babonis pled guilty and were sentenced.
As part of his plea, Mr. Babonis agreed to help track down
all the companies who sought to obtain fraudulent training
certificates -- quite a number since he estimates that over
a 4-year period some 70% of all the training certificates
he issued were fraudulently sold, not properly earned.
companies have been convicted to date, including Macsons,
Inc. -- the company sentenced this month. And the investigation
said, sometimes it takes a team to protect an environment,
law enforcement agencies working together as partners.