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Edward K. Durst faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Monday, April 22, 2013
An asbestos-removal project at Virginia Tech was progressing safely and legally in the summer of 2007, as crews wetted and bagged tainted window frames and placed them in a special disposal bin for hazardous waste.
But after an independent project monitor went home at the end of the day, the one-time foreman of an environmental services company had a member of his crew retrieve the frames containing asbestos glazing compound and sell them to a metal recycler for cash, authorities said.
The scheme, which was profitably repeated on several occasions, unraveled after word reached the environmental company president and he called police.
Edward Durst, 53, of Chesterfield County, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Roanoke on Monday to improper disposal of regulated, asbestos-containing materials in violation of the Clean Air Act.
Judge Michael Urbanski said he expected to accept Durst’s guilty plea when Durst returns to court for sentencing on the felony charge at a later date.
Tech undertook renovations of Cowgill Hall in 2007 to upgrade the facility that now houses offices of its School of Architecture and Design and College of Architecture and Urban Studies, a library and exhibition space, among other things. In compliance with the law, crews put in place a bin for all asbestos-containing items and arranged for their disposal at an approved facility in Peterstown, W.Va., according to court papers filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Roanoke. But Durst had other ideas, and as the job foreman he directed subordinates to sell the frames and give him the money, court papers said.
Employees didn’t wear protective equipment, use a vehicle equipped to transport asbestos waste, carry manifests designed to track hazardous material or inform the recycling company that received the items that they contained material regulated as a cancer-causing agent with no minimum safe level of exposure, court papers said.
In addition to the asbestos-containing window frames, Durst had other metal related to the Virginia Tech project shipped off the job site for recycling, generating payments of an estimated $17,500 from two recyclers in the New River Valley, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennie Waering .
Waering identified the recycler that received the asbestos-tainted items as New River Recycling, which has two New River Valley locations. A company official declined to comment.
Durst admitted keeping the money for himself and has not repaid it, though he agreed to pay restitution if that’s part of his sentence, Waering said.
Durst was with the Henrico County environmental services company Waco Inc. at the time of the incident, company president Daniel Walker said. Walker said Durst acted without knowledge of company officials and is no longer with Waco.
In a news release, authorities did not name Waco as the company involved but credited “the president of the abatement company” with first contacting police about Durst’s conduct.
By the time authorities got involved, it was too late to retrieve the frames, according to officials who said they had no way to gauge the degree of human exposure.
“The Clean Air Act requires construction officials to follow basic rules that ensure a safe and clean environment for future generations,” U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy said in a prepared release. “When individuals like Mr. Durst violate this important environmental protection, this office and the Blue Ridge Environmental Task Force will hold them criminally accountable.”
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