Justus Derx, a federal environmental crimes investigator, has taken part in more than 100 investigations involving large scale asbestos violations, including a probe of a Utica, New York family involved in an illegal asbestos removal coverup scheme.
Asbestos, a mineral fiber long used in building materials, is a human carcinogen. Inhaling asbestos dust can cause mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung or abdomen, lung cancer or asbestosis, a chronic scarring of the lungs. Because of the toxicity of asbestos to humans, federal laws strictly regulate the removal and disposal of asbestos to prevent inhaling asbestos dust.
But some asbestos removal contractors try to remove asbestos without following rules or falsify reports showing no lingering asbestos dust. That gets the attention of Derx.
“I’ve gone to a lot of places where people have been put in situations where I know their health and the environment have been put at serious risk,” Derx said in a Washington Post profile article.
An accountant by training, Derx serves as the resident agent-in-charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Syracuse, New York office. An investigation by Derx and his team led to criminal charges, indictment and conviction of three members of the Mancuso family in 2009 for illegal asbestos removal activities at numerous locations throughout central and upstate New York.
Paul Mancuso of Utica, NY and members of his family had engaged in numerous illegal asbestos removal projects at schools, businesses and homes, then had workers dump asbestos in the fields of unsuspecting property owners, according to a U.S. Justice Department press release.
Derx said it’s not unusual to go through hundreds of boxes and millions of documents to discover the history of a company and individuals involved in a criminal investigation. Another Derx investigation involved a company that improperly removed asbestos from buildings, then provided fraudulent air monitoring results to clients. That detailed investigation also led to convictions.
Derx said the common motivation of environmental criminals was greed.