Exposing Students to Asbestos Leads to 24- and 27-Month Sentences for Non-Profit Executives

One year ago, Patrick Bowman and Rudy Buendia III both pleaded no contest to charges of violating federal asbestos laws. On May 31, both men were sentenced to federal prison by U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill. Bowman received a 27-month sentence; Buendia was given 24 months.

Bowman and Buendia, along with a third man who is being tried separately, were executives at a nonprofit organization called Firm Build, which is now defunct. From late 2005 to early 2006, local high school students were supposed to help Firm Build in a renovation project as part of a job training program through the Merced County Office of Education. By doing so, the students were to gain some on-site work experience. Instead of putting the students to useful tasks, the defendants attempted to save money by having them remove asbestos, neglecting to follow lawful procedure and exposing the students to the hazardous substance.

“The sentences imposed today should remind all who may be involved in handling such materials that disregarding federal environmental laws can result in prison time,” said U.S. District Attorney Benjamin Wagner.

It’s not uncommon for contractors to cut corners when it comes to asbestos abatement. The laws exist not only to protect those who handle the substance, but also to prevent the public from inhaling airborne asbestos fibers, which can result in a variety of respiratory health problems, including mesothelioma.

Jay M. Green, the special agent-in-charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in California, released a statement in light of the sentencing. “There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos,” he clarified. “Directing student workers to illegally remove demolition debris containing asbestos, knowing they had neither the training nor the proper personal protective equipment, threatens their health and safety.”

Bowman and Buendia will report to federal officials in late June to begin serving their time.

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