December 5, 2013

Vacant Property’s Environmental Risks

Source:, November 27, 2013
By: Amanda Duncan

Vacancy isn’t the only headache property owners can face: Empty buildings and land can cause pollution-related liability. Learn about possible options to mitigate environmental liabilities through insurance and risk management.

As America’s real estate crisis recovers along with our economy, more than 14 million properties remain vacant or abandoned across the country. Real estate is considered a vacant property when it is not currently occupied or in use. This includes empty lots as well as structures.

Cities like Detroit, Cleveland and Las Vegas are dealing with thousands of undeveloped lots, empty houses and even entire neighborhoods, as well as commercial, retail and industrial properties. This has resulted in an increase in crime and lower property values for surrounding areas. Local communities left to care for these properties by default do not have the time or resources to keep the properties in good condition, thus causing an increase in exposure to risks like vandalism, fire, theft and water damage. In turn, these risks hinder the possibility of resale and revitalization in the future as economic conditions continue to improve, leading to possible setbacks throughout our communities.

Several environmental risks are associated with all types of vacant properties. Older buildings may have existing asbestos insulation and tiles, as well as lead paint and lead piping. All buildings constructed before 1980 have the potential to contain both asbestos-containing materials and lead-based paint. Leaking heating oil tanks, pipes and appliances are prevalent, as well as any chemicals or lubricants stored on premises in garages or sheds.…

October 28, 2013

Facing asbestos lawsuits, paper giant launched research program

Source:, October 21, 2013
By: Jim Morris

Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific initiated a secret program designed to prove its product didn’t cause cancer

In the spring of 2005, Georgia-Pacific Corp. found itself facing nearly $1 billion in liability from a product it hadn’t made in nearly three decades: a putty-like building material, known as joint compound, containing the cancer-causing mineral asbestos.

Named in more than 60,000 legal claims, Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacificsought salvation in a secret research program it launched in hopes of exonerating its product as a carcinogen, court records obtained by the Center for Public Integrity show. It hired consultants known for their defense work to conduct studies and publish the results, with input from the company’s legal department — and is attempting to keep key information hidden from plaintiffs.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission had banned all asbestos-containing joint compound as of 1978, and Georgia-Pacific, maker of a widely used version called Ready-Mix, had raised no objection. But in 2005, as asbestos-related diseases with long latency periods mounted, the company revisited the issue with one aim: to defend lawsuits filed by people like Daniel Stupino, a part-time renovation worker who died last year of mesothelioma, a form of cancer virtually always caused by asbestos exposure.

Under its research program, Georgia-Pacific paid 18 scientists a collective $6 million, documents show. These experts were directed by Georgia-Pacific’s longtime head of toxicology, who was “specially employed” by the company’s in-house counsel to work on asbestos litigation and was under orders to hold “in the strictest confidence” all information generated.…

March 12, 2013

Asbestos Removal at Pfizer Site Hits Snag

Source: http:/, March 11, 2013
By: Jake Remaly

Contractors replaced after fines from state, developer says.

Contractors who were removing asbestos from buildings at the former Pfizer property on Route 53 in Morris Plains had to be pulled from the project because of “fines levied by the NJ Department of Labor for violations during asbestos abatement,” the developer of the site wrote in a letter to the state.

The state said last week the alleged violations still are under investigation, and information about the case is not yet available to the public.

A new contractor took over and the work is continuing, the developer and state officials said.

After the asbestos abatement work is finished, developer M&M Realty Partners plans to demolish the buildings at 170 and 182 Tabor Road and build hundreds of apartments, condominiums and townhouses plus about 100,000 square feet of retail space.

Asbestos work can only be performed by state-licensed contractors. Even small amounts of asbestos, which was a common construction material until it was found to be a health hazard, “can cause serious illness and death years after exposure,” according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

In a Jan. 25 letter to the Asbestos Control and Licensing section of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Adel Merdan of M&M at Morris Plains LLC requested a waiver of the 10-day notification process typically required for asbestos abatement work so a new contractor could continue the work as soon as possible following the original contractors being removed from the project.…

December 28, 2012

Cleanup of glass company site under way in Jeannette

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 27, 2012
Posted on:

Cleanup of the former Jeannette Glass Co. site is finally under way, but the ownership of the site is embroiled in litigation.

The site was sold to the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. in September for the $304,000 the county says the current owners, Zion Bullitt Limited Partnership, owe in back taxes.

The development group was the only bidder at the tax sale, which has to be cleared by a judge before the title for the 13.5-acre site on Bullitt Avenue is transferred, according to Jeannette solicitor Scott Avolio.

Zion Bullitt in October filed an objection to strike the sale of that property and two other Zion Bullitt-owned sites — one in Jeannette and one in Penn Borough. Aaron Kress, a lawyer for Zion Bullitt, said the partnership intends to pay the back taxes. Mr. Kress also is representing Zion Bullitt in a lawsuit filed against Westmoreland County, challenging the assessed value of the site.

Mr. Kress said that assessed value — $542,220 — is “outrageous.”

Mr. Avolio disagreed, and the county’s Board of Assessment Appeals sided with the city. Zion Bullitt filed a lawsuit against the county in November.

In the meantime, cleanup has begun at the former glass company, which has been shuttered since 1983. The state Department of Environmental Protection ordered Zion Bullitt to clean up the site in January 2011, citing violations of the Solid Waste Management Act, the Clean Streams Law, the Storage Tanks Act and the Air Pollution Control Act.…

December 18, 2012

Insurers May Face $11 Billion More in Asbestos Claims -A.M. Best

Source: Dow Jones News Service, December 17, 2012
Posted on:

U.S. insurers may face $11 billion more in asbestos-related costs than they were anticipating, according to a new study that warns claims on decades-old insurance policies show no signs of abating.

The insurance industry has already paid out about $51 billion in claims tied to asbestos over the past quarter century, and has $23 billion set aside for future expenses. But the report from ratings firm A.M. Best concludes the ultimate cost of such claims will eventually hit an estimated $85 billion. That’s up from $75 billion in its previous estimate, published last year.

The increasing cost of each claim, the recent successes of plaintiffs’ attorneys, and the long latency periods for some of the more serious illnesses caused by the once widely used mineral mean “sizable losses are likely to continue for years,” A.M. Best said in the report, due to be released this week.

Insurers with significant exposure to asbestos claims include Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. (HIG), Travelers Cos. (TRV) and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRKA, BRKB), which has taken on billions in asbestos liabilities in recent years through reinsurance deals with American International Group Inc. (AIG), CNA Financial Corp. (CNA) and Lloyd’s of London.

While it hasn’t been widely used since the late 1970s, asbestos was once common in a variety of building materials and other products, and valued as a fireproofing and insulation material until it became clear that it presented a significant health hazard.…

December 10, 2012

Fitch: Asbestos Reserve Deficiency Continues for U.S. Insurance Industry

Source: Business Wire, November 28, 2012
Posted on:

Fitch Ratings estimates industry asbestos reserves to be deficient by $2 billion to $8 billion at year-end 2011. Asbestos reserves make up approximately 4% of total property/casualty industry reserves with approximately 50% of reserves concentrated in five insurers.

In a new report, Fitch examines a range of loss scenarios and future payments for asbestos losses up to an ultimate industry loss of $85 billion. Based on recent development experience and its latest analysis of loss payment scenarios, Fitch’s target industry survival ratio is 11x-14x.

The reported industry survival ratio for asbestos liabilities increased modestly to 10.3x in 2011 from 10.1x in 2010 and 9.9x in 2009, indicating that incurred losses have expanded at a faster rate than paid losses in recent years.

Fitch’s analysis reveals that the (re)insurance industry remains strongly capitalized with the capacity to absorb future asbestos claims without risk of material capital depletion. While Fitch does not anticipate broad rating actions related to asbestos, the ratings of individual companies could be adversely affected by the severity of reserve deficiencies relative to capital.

The full report is available on the Fitch web site at ‘‘.

Additional information is available at ‘‘.

Applicable Criteria and Related Research: Asbestos Losses: Continued Source of Reserve Deficiency


Fitch Ratings
Dafina M. Dunmore, CFA, +1-312-368-3136
Fitch, Inc.
70 West Madison St.
Chicago, IL 60602
Jim B. Auden, CFA, +1-312-368-3146
Managing Director
Media Relations:
Brian Bertsch, New York, +1 212-908-0549

Source: Fitch Ratings…

December 10, 2012

East Chattanooga asbestos case takes pauper twist

Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press, November 23, 2012
Posted on:

A man who chose the cheap way to tear down an old textile mill in East Chattanooga and exposed a neighborhood to asbestos will be allowed to appeal his four-year sentence on the taxpayers’ dime — at least for now.

Don Fillers, while awaiting trial on federal charges of violating asbestos regulations, transferred his Missionary Ridge home and 40 other properties to his wife, court documents show.

Now Fillers claims he can’t afford to pay for an attorney, so the lawyer that he still owes more than $20,000 now has become his court-appointed lawyer, according to documents.

On Nov. 13, Fillers filed an affidavit seeking pauper status and an appointed attorney.

He said his 2009 income of $4,000 a month from Chattanooga Hardwood Co. stopped that year, and properties purchased for nearly $2.5 million and assessed for taxes at $742,534 have outstanding loans totaling $18.5 million.

The properties were transferred from Don Fillers to his wife, Jackie Fillers, on May 19, 2010.

On Nov. 19, U.S. District Court Magistrate William Carter granted Fillers pauper status with this caveat:

“[The] defendant could at a later date be required to repay any cost to the government for providing counsel, filing fees or expenses for the appeal of the case if it was later determined he had the funds to hire his own lawyer.”…

June 27, 2012

Take Control of Your Environmental Liability

Source: XL Group Insurance, Construction Insider
By: Laura Wagner, Vice President Construction Practice

Construction activities pose a variety of environmental risks. Construction equipment and materials brought to the jobsite, including fuels, solvents, adhesives, concrete, paint, pesticides, sealers, thinners, and waterproofing agents, all have the potential for environmental impact if mishandled or stored improperly. Water intrusion and the resulting potential for mold, leaks and spill during routine equipment maintenance and fuel storage also carry potential environmental liabilities.

In addition to the risks posed by equipment and materials, contractors also have to keep up with a variety of changing codes, rules and regulations. Clean Air and Clean Water Act violations with fines in the millions of dollars are making news. Asbestos litigation, legionella outbreaks, public perceptions on hydro-fracturing, lead rules and stormwater runoff are other hot topics that are on the list of contractors’ environmental concerns. Add to that the changing exposures surrounding green buildings and the state DOTs pollution coverage requirements and contractors have a lot to manage.

Given the nature of construction and its interaction with people and the environment, it is no wonder why environmental risk management is high up on a contractor’s list of business concerns. Contractors looking to protect public health, their employees and their profitability, have to be attentive to managing their environmental risks as well as the environmental risks around them that can become their problem if not properly handled.…

June 12, 2012

Woman is indicted in removal of asbestos siding

Source:, April 19, 2012
Posted in: Rockhill Environmental Newsletter, June 2012

A North Grafton property owner has been indicted for allegedly paying two tenants to remove asbestos from her Springfield rental property.

Susan B. Nissenbaum, 59, was indicted April 12 by a Hampden County grand jury on three counts of violating the Massachusetts Clean Air Act for failure to file a notice of asbestos removal with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. She is also charged with improper asbestos removal, and improper asbestos storage.

Ms. Nissenbaum allegedly paid the tenants to remove asbestos siding from the single-family rental property in Springfield in 2010. She allegedly failed to warn the tenants of the dangers associated with asbestos and did not ensure that they had proper protective equipment or training in removal procedures, according to authorities. After it was removed, the asbestos was stored in torn bags on the property. As a result, authorities allege that the tenants, their children, and others were exposed to asbestos.

The case is being prosecuted by the office of state Attorney General Martha Coakley.

“We allege that this defendant put her tenants at risk by having them unsafely remove asbestos from the property and failing to warn them of the dangers involved,” Ms. Coakley said yesterday in a news release.

Authorities allege that although Ms. Nissenbaum knew that the siding contained asbestos, she did not inform her tenants how asbestos needed to be handled and failed to ensure that they had the proper training or equipment to do so. Additionally, Ms. Nissenbaum allegedly failed to ensure that the tenants followed proper procedures to prevent asbestos fibers from being released into the air.

Ms. Nissenbaum allegedly failed to notify the DEP before beginning work on the project. In November 2010, after being contacted by a licensed asbestos contractor, state environmental officials inspected the site and found the alleged improper removal, storage and release of asbestos.

The state Department of Labor Standards requires that the removal of asbestos be performed by a licensed contractor, and state environmental regulations require that contractors must provide notification of when the removal will occur and follow standards for removal, storage, and disposal of the asbestos.

A Hampden County Grand Jury returned indictments against Nissenbaum on April 12, and she is scheduled to be arraigned in Hampden Superior Court at a later date.

Ms. Nissenbaum was barred from practicing law in Massachusetts in 2005. A phone listed for her is disconnected.…

April 3, 2012

Firms penalized for their work at Sun building

Source:, March 29, 2012
By Chris Camire

Four companies face fines as high as $80,000 for improperly disposing of asbestos from the former Sun newspaper building in downtown Lowell.

The civil penalties were announced by Attorney General Martha Coakley yesterday.

According to the complaint filed yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court, JDL Inc. of Dracut, and Sun Building, Kearney Square Properties and TopNotch Homes, all limited-liability companies from Tewksbury, violated the state’s Clean Air Act by removing and disposing of asbestos-containing pipe insulation and ceiling tiles without using proper containment procedures to prevent the release of asbestos.

The companies also allegedly failed to provide required notifications to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“Our office is committed to enforcing the state’s environmental laws and pursuing those who put workers and the public at risk by failing to control the release of dangerous asbestos fibers,” Coakley said in a statement. “Property managers, owners and contractors must take the proper precautions to ensure the containment of asbestos at all times.”

The demolition work was performed as part of the conversion of The Sun building to condominiums in February 2009. Because of the health risks associated with the release of asbestos fibers, the law requires strict adherence to air-pollution control methods when someone proposes to perform asbestos-abatement work.

The settlement, also filed and approved by the court yesterday, requires current owners of the property, Sun Building and Kearney Square Properties, and their demolition contractor, JDL Inc., to pay a civil penalty of $80,000 for the alleged violations, $30,000 of which may be forgiven if defendants comply with the judgment in the case.
The Sun moved from the 15 Kearney Square location to 491 Dutton St. in March 2007. It is not involved in the alleged violations and not a party to the lawsuit, according to Coakley’s office.

The DEP shut down the demolition operation when the agency learned of the violations and required that the defendants immediately contain the asbestos.

The developer complied with MassDEP’s demand that it hire a licensed abatement firm to fully secure and properly dispose of the material. As a result of the prompt response by MassDEP, it is believed that the asbestos was properly contained and disposed of soon after the material was removed from the building.

The building was previously owned by developer John DeAngelis, but he said yesterday that he sold the building to TopNotch Homes before the demolition work began.

A representative from TopNotch Homes could not be reached for comment.…