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California Students Exposed to Asbestos by Unethical Businessmen

Two California men have received stiff prison sentences for exposing high school students to the dangerous carcinogen asbestos.

Patrick Bowman and Rudy Buendia III had been executives at a nonprofit organization called Firm Build. The company had contracted with the Merced County Office of Education to provide its high school students with some job training. The students were hired to take part in a renovation project that took place between September 2005 to March 2006, almost a full school year, at the Castle Commerce Center’s Automotive Training Center. While there the students were told they were getting valuable job skills and work experience while in fact the executives were using them to save money, employing them to remove asbestos from the site instead of using licensed and certified asbestos removal professionals.

Asbestos is a known carcinogen that causes a variety of serious health conditions, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, an always fatal form of cancer that can take decades to appear. The mineral was used in construction and insulation for many years before being largely banned in the United States. Since that time the removal of asbestos has been carefully regulated because even the smallest exposure raises the risk of significant illness.

Bowman and Buendia were charged along with a third person, Joseph Cuellar, who had filed a no contest plea but who then attempted o withdraw it. All three men had originally filed a no contest plea in response to the federal charges filed against them for the violation of asbestos laws. Bowman was sentence last week to 27 months in jail and Buendia received a sentence of 24 months. Cuellar has until May 15th to file any additional motions before he is also sentenced.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill, who ruled on the case, issued the following statement:

“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. I am grateful for the support of the investigations bureau of the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, and of Cal-EPA and the California Department of Justice, in the course of the investigation and prosecution of this case.”

The victims in the case will require follow-up medical monitoring for many years to come, and the costs of that monitoring could run into the millions of dollars. The EPA investigator who was involved in the case said that approximately six dozen students were exposed.

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an independent writer, editor and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Her dreams of a writing career were diverted by a need to pay her bills. She spent a few years providing copy for a major retailer, then landed a lucrative career in advertising sales. With college bills for all three of her kids paid, she left corporate America for a return to her original goal of writing. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of interest include health and fitness, medical research, and the law.

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