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‘Mysterious’ Developer Fined $2.3M

Friday, April 4, 2014

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Abandoned a generation earlier, the 80 crumbling brick buildings of the old Harlem Valley Psychiatric Hospital needed to be cleaned up—and fast—for potential investors.

The management firm that owned the decaying 900-acre site north of New York City called in 13 contractors, as well as some of its own employees.

Together, they tackled peeling paint, buckled ceilings and walls, decrepit windows and doors, broken tiles and floors, filthy carpets, and tons of other toxin-riddled materials that had been untouched since the state closed the hospital 20 years before.

Harlem Valley Psych Hospital Harlem Valley Hospital site - 2013
Flickr / 826 PARANORMAL (left); Olivet Management LLC (right)

The former Harlem Valley Psychiatric Hospital dates to the 1920s and closed in the 1990s. Left: Part of the complex in August 2010, before cleanup.  Right: Another building after the cleanup in 2013. The EPA halted the cleanup in January.

But never, federal authorities say, did property owner Olivet Management LLC  tell any of the companies or workers that the scores of 90-year-old buildings were filled with lead and asbestos.

Instead, under Olivet's supervision, the crews worked—untrained, unprotected and unaware, according to authorities—to scrape paint, break down and haul away debris, and otherwise prepare the complex for redevelopment as The Olivet Center, billed as an education, IT and research center.

Now, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has slapped Olivet Management with 46 citations and nearly $2.4 million in fines over the cleanup.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Olivet to stop all asbestos work at the site and submit a legal cleanup plan.

'Intolerable'

All but one of the new OSHA citations are classified as willful, OSHA's highest level of infraction, reserved for flagrant violations of the law and "plain indifference" to employee safety and health.

"Olivet knew that asbestos and lead were present at this site, yet the company chose to ignore its responsibility to protect its own workers and contractors," U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said in an announcement released Wednesday (April 2).

Harlem Valley Psych Hospital Harlem Valley Psych Hospital - 2013
Flickr / 826 PARANORMAL (left); Olivet Management LLC (right)

The 900-acre complex contains 80 brick buildings and was abandoned for 20 years. Olivet Management LLC, of Dover, NY, is trying to redevelop the complex. In October, a New York Times article about the project called the developer "mysterious."

"The intolerable choice this company made put not only workers, but also their families, in danger."

'Mysterious'

Olivet describes itself on its website as a "real estate development and management company specializing in school and commercial properties across the United States."

But the site contains few specifics and no company history; and only the Olivet Center project is clearly identified in its project portfolio. In October, The New York Times published an article that referred to Olivet Management as the hospital site's "mysterious new owner."

The newspaper said the site would be redeveloped in part as a satellite campus for Olivet University, a small Christian college in San Francisco. The paper described the university's founder, a Korean pastor named David Jang, as an associate of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church.

The Times also cited a lengthy 2012 article by Christianity Today, which reported that Jang's followers "encourage the belief that he's the 'Second Coming Christ.'"

Company Responds

In a statement Thursday (April 3), Olivet Management spokeswoman Anna Oh said the company was reviewing the OSHA citations "in the hope of working with the agency to resolve them."

Olivet Center rendering
Olivet Management LLC

Olivet Management says the site will become an education, IT and research center. The New York Times said the site will include a satellite campus for a San Francisco university led by a messianic pastor.

Oh said that her company was "new to New York State" and "grateful for the direction we have been given by both state and federal agencies in helping us move forward with our long-term commitment to bring economic development, stability and vibrancy and new jobs to the area in the most effective and efficient manner as possible."

The statement added: "We have the same goals as OSHA—to ensure that once construction and renovation work is commenced, all workers will be fully protected against any unsafe and unhealthful working conditions."

The company said it looked "forward to moving forward on a project that we believe will help restore economic energy to the greater Harlem Valley region and to a project we at Olivet Management are committed to for the long term."

Willful Citations

OSHA's Albany, NY, office began inspecting the site Oct. 23, 2013, in response to a complaint. According to the EPA, inspectors were initially refused access to the site, but were allowed in days later.

Asbestos cleanup
ct.gov

Asbestos professionals must be trained and certified. According to OSHA, workers at the Olivet site removed and hauled asbestos waste with no training, no protective gear and no knowledge of the asbestos located throughout the property.

The OSHA inspection found that employees and contractors "directed and overseen" by Olivet supervisors were performing renovation and cleanup activities that included "removing asbestos- and lead-contaminated debris; asbestos-containing floor tiles and insulation; and lead-containing paint from walls, windows, door frames and other painted surfaces."

The EPA said that "many of the buildings contained significant amounts of asbestos."

OSHA determined that Olivet "knowingly failed to take basic safety precautions. The company neither informed their own employees nor the contractors about the presence of asbestos and lead, despite knowing that both hazards existed."

Lead Paint
EPA

The complex's buildings dated to the 1920s, with an abundance of lead paint, according to OSHA. The window pictured is not from the site.

The 77-page list of violations details allegations that Olivet failed to:

  • Train employees in the hazards of asbestos and lead and the need and nature of required safeguards;
  • Monitor workers’ exposure levels;
  • Provide appropriate respiratory protection;
  • Post notices, warning signs and labels to alert workers and contractors to the presence of asbestos and lead; and
  • Provide clean changing and decontamination areas for workers, many of whom wore their contaminated clothing home to households with small children.

Other Actions

Nor did the company inform waste haulers of the presence of asbestos and asbestos-containg materials, "meaning asbestos from the site may have been disposed of improperly at an unknown location," according to OSHA.

This lack of notice prompted the one serious violation in the case.

Due to the high number of willful violations, Olivet has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which targets enforcement resources toward "recalcitrant" employers.

   

Tagged categories: Asbestos; Brick; Cleanup; Hazardous waste; Health and safety; Health Care/Hospitals; Historic Structures; Lead paint abatement; Maintenance coating work; Maintenance programs; OSHA; Renovation

Comment from Michael Nowak, (4/4/2014, 1:33 PM)

Thank goodness those poor, defenseless, uneducated contractors are being protected from evil owners. Because it is clear that none of the 13 had ever heard of asbestos or lead paint before. I wonder if they are aware of gravity? I hope none of them ever fall because some owner neglected to tell them that the Earth may attract them towards its center.


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