I have three pictures side by side in my house: John L. Lewis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jesus. I draw Social Security on account of FDR. I draw a pension on account of John L. Lewis, and I'm going to Heaven because of Jesus.
-- Jack McReynolds, 70, retired miner, West Frankfort, KY
That's what three days of asbestos removal at about $4 an hour bought Joe Miller. That and a chance of getting cancer a couple of decades from now.
But those are the risks you take when you're homeless and surviving on day labor. From the beginning, the asbestos job "just didn't even sound right," said Miller, one of three homeless men hired in February to do the work in the basement of the City and State Building on Campbell Avenue. The case is under investigation by federal authorities. No one has been charged.
Miller, 39, said he knew about the risks from breathing asbestos fibers. "But we didn't know it was going to be that bad down in that building." The men were given yellow rain suits, goggles and respirators to wear while handling the banned insulation material. "We was cutting it off the pipes and scooping it up and putting it in bags." Dust floated everywhere, Miller said.
At the end of it, Miller said he picked up $100 cash.
The father and son, now serving lengthy prison terms, conducted illegal asbestos removal in up to 1,555 structures -- including colleges, schools and government buildings, most of them in the Capital Region -- and falsified up to 75,000 laboratory results, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found.
A college pal of Alex Salvagno, also 38, Pilgrim was the first witness for the defense. He testified he worked for the Salvagnos for four years at AAR Contractor Latham and Analytical Laboratories of Albany and never observed or participated in illegal asbestos activities, according to a statement released by Glenn T. Suddaby, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York.
He further testified he never saw indoor snowstorms (an industry term when so much asbestos is improperly released into the air it appears to be snowing in the work area), never saw workers removing asbestos without wearing respirators, knew nothing of falsified laboratory reports and did not know that Alex Salvagno secretly co-owned Analytical Laboratories of Albany, a purportedly independent laboratory that performed analysis on AAR projects to verify that asbestos had been properly removed, the statement said.
After the trial, EPA investigators continued to look into the case and into Pilgrim's testimony.
In his guilty plea, he admitted his testimony was a lie. He acknowledged illegal asbestos removal, observing indoor snowstorms, seeing AAR workers not wearing respirators at numerous projects and being aware that lab reports were falsified.
Hey, but don't worry. If homeless and unemployed people decide they want safer work, there are plenty of kids looking for summer jobs.
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