FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — Three Massachusetts men accused of illegally tearing down a Fall River elementary school nearly five years ago are now facing dozens of charges, 12 News has learned.
In a media release sent Thursday, Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell said she’s secured 104 indictments in connection with the 2018 demolition of Harriet T. Healy Elementary School.
Campbell claims that 42-year-old Eric Resendes, 67-year-old Richard Miranda Sr. and 47-year-old Richard Miranda Jr., along with their respective companies — Spindle City Homes and Diversified Roofing Systems — violated the Massachusetts Clean Air Act by polluting the surrounding neighborhood with asbestos, lead and dust.
Resendes purchased the former school the year before it was torn down, according to Campbell. He then hired Miranda Sr. and his son as contractors, even though Campbell said neither were licensed to remove asbestos as required by law.
The three men removed some, but not all, of the asbestos from the interior of the building before Resendes applied for a demolition permit, Campbell said.
In his application, Resendes included an inaccurate abatement report which claimed that the asbestos had been properly removed, according to Campbell.
While the building was being torn down, Campbell alleges the asbestos and lead were crushed into a powdery substance, then mixed with other debris and spread across the demolition site over the course of seven months.
“It was like living in a sandstorm,” one resident told 12 News. “I’d open my car and it would be all full of powder. It was in our houses … They didn’t wet stuff down beforehand like they were supposed to. It was disgusting.”
The men also left an uncovered pile of asbestos-containing material behind after knocking down the building, “causing repeated additional air pollution and posing a potential threat to the surrounding community’s health, safety and well-being,” Campbell said.
“[The debris pile] had a horrible smell,” the resident said. “We saw them throwing bags out of the window with asbestos [in them] … You could tell it was really unprofessional.”
The men refused to properly the pile and stop removing the asbestos-containing material from the demolition site, according to Campbell, despite being ordered to do so by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
The pollution caused by the demolition required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in and remove the asbestos at a cost of nearly $2 million, Campbell noted.
The men are scheduled to be arraigned on Sept. 11 in Bristol County Superior Court.
Asbestos is a known human carcinogen that can cause potentially life-threatening illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
“Once disturbed, asbestos fibers can remain airborne, and therefore breathable for up to 72 hours,” Campbell wrote in the release. “Because of the serious health risks associated with asbestos, there is no safe level of exposure.”