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Tarpon company fined $210,000

A bridge-painting company is fined for altering reports to make workers' lead levels meet federal standards.

By KATHERINE GAZELLA

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000


TARPON SPRINGS -- A federal judge Monday ordered a Tarpon Springs bridge-painting company to pay a criminal fine of $210,000 for falsifying reports showing lead levels in employees' blood.

U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore also placed Damalos Inc. on probation for three years and said that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will monitor the company's activity for a few years. Attorneys for Damalos Inc. and federal prosecutors had agreed to the fine before a sentencing hearing Monday afternoon.

OSHA and the FBI investigated the company last year after OSHA received a complaint from a worker who told the agency that he had lead poisoning. The investigation revealed that lab test results for five workers had been altered by an associate of the company so the lead levels appeared to meet federal standards.

"The conduct of the defendant did present a potential danger to the community," Whittemore said.

Damalos & Sons Inc. already has agreed to pay $290,000 to OSHA on Jan. 1, for two other regulatory cases involving lead exposure, company attorney George Tragos said. Both companies are owned by Tony Damalos. Damalos Inc. does not plan an appeal of the criminal fine, Tragos said. Lead poisoning can cause sterility or kidney failure and can damage a person's central nervous system. In a severe case, the poisoned person may die. In sandblasting and painting, workers may be poisoned by breathing or swallowing lead paint dust.

Tragos said that Tony Damalos was not charged criminally and that no employee had ever contacted the company to complain of lead poisoning. Moreover, he said, the company knows of no proof from OSHA that the original complaint was found to be true. Some of the employees who were tested for lead poisoning were local residents and some worked on painting jobs in other states, he said.

Damalos & Sons also was cited by OSHA in April for knowingly exposing workers to the hazards of potentially fatal falls while they worked on a New Jersey Turnpike bridge project. Employees worked on suspended platforms 40 feet above the water without safety harnesses, OSHA said. For the 14 violations, including nine alleged willful violations, OSHA proposed fines of $456,000.

Tragos said those citations were technical violations and are common in the bridge-painting industry.

Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or gazella@sptimes.com.

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