In what’s being called one of the largest cases of asbestos pollution in Michigan, three people now face federal prison after releasing massive amounts of the toxic substance from a Comstock Township power generation facility. The defendants plead guilty this Wednesday to violating the Clean Air Act, as they stood in front of a judge in the Grand Rapids courtroom.
According to court documents, three defendants, Cory Hammond, LuAnne LaBrie, and Robert White, were on trial stemming from a 2011 asbestos incident in which they agreed to “salvage valuable material from the facility and share in the proceeds.” LaBrie was the supervisor of the former Consumers Energy, while Hammond and White served as laborers hired to remove asbestos insulation from the facility.
Per federal authorities, LaBrie visited the power generation facility regularly and had ongoing communications with both Hammond and White regarding the salvage operation.
“Despite knowing that Hammond, White, and other laborers were stripping and removing asbestos insulation from pipes and facility components, LaBrie failed to notify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the State of Michigan that the salvage operation would involve the removal of asbestos inside the facility,” said prosecutors in the case.
Hammond and White were both aware that they were to wet any asbestos down before removing it, yet both admitted that they failed to do so. The asbestos was stripped while inside the facility, creating life-threatening risks for every worker in the facility.
“Companies and individuals handling regulated asbestos material must follow basic workplace practices designed to protect both the workers who handle the hazardous material and the air we breathe,” said one attorney. “Those who attempt to evade the law by cutting corners to maximize profits and harm our environment will be held accountable for their actions.”
EPA Steps in for Criminal Investigation
Due to the sheer amount of asbestos that was released, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division stepped in to investigate all three defendants. Furthermore, the Internal Revenue Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Environmental Investigation Section also investigated the defendants.
According to the EPA’s Superfund Division, the mass amount of release asbestos resulted in a $1.03 million cleanup. The defendants agreed to repay the restitution for the costs of the cleanup, but that wasn’t enough to stop criminal charges against them.
In addition to pleading guilty to violating the Clean Air Act,LaBrie plead guilty to not notifying the proper officials that asbestos would be stripped and removed from the facility, while both Hammond and White plead guilty to failing to properly wet the asbestos.
Hammond and Whiter’s sentencing is slated to take place on July 6. LaBrie faces her conviction on April 23. All three defendants face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. However, it’s important to note that the Court will determine each defendant’s sentence according to federal sentencing guidelines.
“Asbestos can cause cancer and other serious respiratory diseases and must be handled legally and safely,” said Special Agent Randall Ashe, of EPA’s Michigan criminal enforcement unit. 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.”
Is Wet Asbestos Safer?
Although no levels of asbestos are safe, the EPA states that wetting down friable asbestos will help to reduce the spread of airborne fibers, and in turn reduce the risks of people ingesting asbestos. Since asbestos fibers are odorless, colorless, thin, and undetectable, they are easily ingested without knowledge. It’s important, however, that federal guidelines and rules are always followed when professionals wet asbestos.
Keep in mind that if you or a loved one have been injured by asbestos due to the negligence of another party, you may be entitled to substantial compensation. Right now, there is more than $30 billion in asbestos trust funds, awaiting those who have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease. For more information, we invite you to get in touch with our leading mesothelioma attorneys for a free, confidential case consultation.