Recently, a man who improperly handled and disposed of products containing asbestos was sentenced to 10 years in prison following multiple violations of the Clean Air Act. In addition, he is required to pay over $47,000 to the Environmental Protection Agency for the costs associated with cleaning up the product that was improperly thrown out and a fine of $15,000.
According to the information submitted at trial, the company owned by the man was hired to remove the insulation covering the pipes in a five-story building in Illinois. The insulation contained asbestos.
In these types of situations, the EPA requires the company removing the toxic product to have individuals trained in such removal on site. In addition, the company is expected to notify the EPA of the impending removal of the toxic substance.
Not only did the removal company fail to properly notify the EPA, there were no trained asbestos-removal professionals on site at the time the work was performed. Consequently, the insulation was not removed in accordance with EPA specifications. The company should have ensured the insulation was wet before it was removed, to reduce the amount of asbestos fibers released into the air - it failed to do so.
Further, the insulation should have been transported in vehicles clearly marked as housing the dangerous substance and then should have been disposed of in an area meant for asbestos waste. Instead, the company put the insulation in over 100 plastic garbage bags that were not labeled as containing the toxin and threw them away in an open field.
This negligent action caused contamination of the soil in the field where the bags were dumped. The manner in which the insulation was removed also posed a severe risk to the workers involved in the project, as they were exposed to asbestos fibers released into the air when the insulation was moved.
Commenting on the case, an assistant administrator for the EPA said, "Asbestos must be removed in a safe and legal way in order to protect people's health and reduce the risk of exposure. The defendant's actions endangered the health of his workers and the surrounding community and the sentence shows that those who violate critical environmental safeguards will be prosecuted."
In addition to the criminal penalties, the company could be liable for harm caused to the workers exposed to the asbestos or members of the community harmed by the soil contamination.
Source: EPA, "Illinois Man Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison for Clean Air Act Violations Involving Asbestos," July 26, 2012.
Our firm handles cases involving people diagnosed with illnesses caused by asbestos exposure. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Asbestos Exposure page.