Three Michigan residents have pleaded guilty to federal Clean Air Act violations and await sentencing for their roles in what environmental investigators say could be the biggest release of deadly asbestos in Michigan since the substance was declared a hazardous air pollutant in 1971.
LuAnne LaBrie of Kalamazoo, Mich. pleaded guilty to the felony offense of failing to notify federal or state environmental authorites about an asbestos removal project at a former power generation facility in Comstock Township, Mich.
Cory Hammond of Hastings, Mich., and Robert “Mike” White of Kalamazoo both pleaded guilty for their failure to adequately wet asbestos material while stripping it and removing it from the facility, which is also a felony offense.
The charges stem from a 2011 agreement between Ms. LaBrie, Mr. Hammond, and Mr. White to salvage valuable materials from the old facility and split the proceeds. The U.S. Justice Department said that each of them knew that asbestos was present throughout the facility.
However, despite the knowledge that several workers were stripping and removing asbestos from the building, Ms. LaBrie failed to notify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or proper state authorities about the asbestos removal.
Mr. Hammond and Mr. White failed to properly wet down the asbestos to prevent particles of it from becoming airborne. The subsequent release of asbestos, once discovered by authorities, resulted in a cleanup costing $1 million that was paid for from the EPA’s Superfund Division. The defendants agreed to pay restitution to the EPA for the asbestos cleanup costs.
Each of the defendants also faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the violations. Ms. LaBrie will be sentenced in April and Mr. Hammond and White will be sentenced in July.
“Asbestos can cause cancer and other serious respiratory diseases and must be handled legally and safely,” said Special Agent Randall Ashe of EPA’s criminal enforcement division in Michigan. “The defendants directed the break-up and removal of material containing asbestos, threatening not only the environment but the safety of their workers and the general public. Today’s pleas clearly show that anyone who tries to make money by breaking the law will ultimately pay the price.”
The cancer-causing carcinogen, asbestos, is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral, known for its tensile strength, flexibility, resistance to degradation, and electrical resistance. For decades, asbestos was used in a variety of building materials such as insulation, flooring and shingles. In recent years, the use of asbestos and its products has decreased, though they are still found in many residential and commercial settings.
Asbestos, despite the well-known safety risks associated with its use, continues to threaten the health of unsuspecting workers and many others. When disturbed and broken or crushed, as in renovation and demolition projects, microscopic asbestos particles are released and remain in the air. The inhalation or ingestion of these particles may lead to the devastating disease, mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen or, sometimes, the heart. There is no known cure for mesothelioma.
There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, and it causes more 107,000 deaths worldwide each year. For more information about asbestos and asbestos-related diseases, visit our mesothelioma awareness site at www.myMeso.org.