Videos of asbestos ‘snow’ at former GM plant in Delaware triggers probe, $66,000 penalty

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The so-called asbestos “snow’’ video provided to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control by the Laborers Union Local 199 in Delaware. The videos triggered the investigation that led to the $66,000 in penalties against ECO Services of Exton, Pa., and a foreman. (Courtesy of Laborers Union Local 199)

The so-called asbestos “snow’’ video provided to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control by the Laborers Union Local 199 in Delaware. The videos triggered the investigation that led to the $66,000 in penalties against ECO Services of Exton, Pa., and a foreman. (Courtesy of Laborers Union Local 199)

A major demolition and construction project is underway to convert the former General Motors plant in Delaware into a center for e-commerce, logistics, and fulfillment-type businesses.

The razing of the plant is nearly complete, but the asbestos-removal work drew the scrutiny of organized labor and led state environmental regulators to issue a series of violations this month.

Two videos taken by a laid-off union worker who got a job at the non-union site were sent to state officials. One was dubbed the “snow video’’  by union leaders.

The two-and-a-half-minute clip obtained by WHYY shows asbestos particles “suspended in the air and blowing through the workplace,’’ according to the order issued by Shawn Garvin, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Another video shows a machine crushing panels that contain asbestos.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring material composed of long and thin fibrous crystals that when breathed can cause lung cancer and other diseases, including mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Garvin said the videos triggered an investigation in which employees verified illegal and unsafe asbestos-abatement practices.

“Workers provided us with information that left no doubt that they were not doing what was supposed to be done,” Garvin said.

The state ordered the site’s asbestos subcontractor, Ecoservices of Exton, Pennsylvania, and a foreman who allegedly ignored complaints about the illegal practices to pay a total of $66,000 in fines and costs.

Garvin’s order found that Ecoservices violated state law by failing to take precautions to prevent asbestos from becoming airborne.

The order said the company did not wet or encapsulate the toxic material, seal the work area or the asbestos in an appropriate container, dispose of it safely in a landfill, or make receipts and records about proper disposal available to state investigators.

The state took no action against developer Harvey Hanna and Associates, which owns the 3.1 million-square-foot former auto assembly plant near Newport, or its general demolition contractor, Atlantic Coast Dismantling of Boston.

Ecoservices referred WHYY to its Wilmington attorney, Timothy Houseal, who did not respond to a request for comment. Atlantic Coast Dismantling did not return WHYY’s calls or emails.

Demolition began in November 2018 and is nearly complete.

Demolition work began in November 2018 at the former General Motors plant near Newport, Del., and is almost complete. (Courtesy of Laborers Union Local 199)

Officials at Harvey Hanna would not agree to an interview about the violations or its oversight of its contractors, saying in a written statement from its public relations firm that “out of respect for the regulatory process, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time.’”

The statement added that “the continued safety of the local community and on-site workers has always been of paramount importance to Harvey Hanna & Associates as we redevelop” the plant near Newport.

Harvey Hanna has created a website that contains additional information about the asbestos issue at the former assembly plant.

Officials from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration are also investigating.

A trash bin holds materials containing asbestos during the demolition work at the former GM plant. (Courtesy of Laborers Union Local 199)

Robert DiClemente, an organizer with Laborers Union Local 199 in Delaware, said he was appalled when he visited the site earlier this year. He criticized Harvey Hanna officials for insisting during a community meeting that the demolition was being done safely and properly.

Even though signs inside the plant clearly warned workers about the dangers of asbestos there, DiClemente said, “they were literally crushing the panels in the dumpster. It’s really beyond ridiculous. I don’t even know in any universe that this could be OK.”

Materials containing asbestos are on the ground at the former General Motors plant, in front of a sign that warns workers to wear protective clothing while working with the dangerous material. (Courtesy of Laborers Union Local 199)

Asbestos is “deadly,’’ he said. “That’s why there are all the rules. That’s why you contain the area. I’m over there looking at them. They are out in the yard at GM, and the big pipes are covered with asbestos, and they are just like cutting it with a utility knife and letting it drop like 30 40 feet to the ground.”

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