Power Plant Asbestos Draws 3 Felonies
Three people have pleaded guilty to their roles in what may have been the largest asbestos release in Michigan since record-keeping began, investigators announced.
LuAnne LaBrie, formerly known as LuAnne McClain, Cory Hammond and Robert "Mike" White pleaded guilty Wednesday (Feb. 11) to violating the Clean Air Act while removing asbestos material from a former power plant, the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Western District of Michigan announced.
Each defendant faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the felony charges.
LaBrie will be sentenced in April, and Hammond and White will be sentenced in July.
The asbestos release was the state's largest since 1971, when the material was declared a hazardous pollutant, investigators said.
LaBrie pleaded guilty to failing to notify federal or state authorities that asbestos material would be stripped and removed from the former power generation facility in Comstock Township, MI.
Hammond and White each pleaded guilty to failing to adequately wet asbestos material while stripping and removing asbestos inside the plant.
"Asbestos can cause cancer and other serious respiratory diseases and must be handled legally and safely," said Randall Ashe, Special Agent in Charge of the Environmental Protection Agency's criminal enforcement program 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," said Ashe.
"Today's pleas clearly show that anyone who tries to make money by breaking the law will ultimately pay the price."
Salvage for Profit
In 2011, authorities said, the three defendants agreed to salvage valuable material from the facility and share in the profits. They knew that the site also contained asbestos, prosecutors said.
|U.S. Geological Survey|
"Asbestos can cause cancer and other serious respiratory diseases and must be handled legally and safely," said Randall Ashe, of EPA's criminal enforcement program in Michigan.
LaBrie supervised and controlled the facility, visited it on a regular basis, and communicated with Hammond and White about the status of the salvage work.
LaBrie knew that Hammond, White and other workers were stripping and removing asbestos insulation from pipes and other components, but she did not notify the EPA or the state about the work, prosecutor's said.
Hammond and White admitted that they didn't adequately wet asbestos material that had been stripped and removed until it was collected and sealed in a leak-tight container to prevent the release of particulates during the salvage operation.
The defendants also agreed to pay restitution to the EPA for remediation costs associated with the illegal asbestos removal. Clean-up costs were estimated at about $1 million.
In 2011, the defendants agreed to salvage valuable material from the facility and share in the profits. According to the U.S. Attorney, they knew that the plant also contained asbestos.
"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 all breathe," said U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles.
"Those who attempt to evade the law by cutting corners to maximize profits and harm our environment will be held accountable for their actions."
The case was investigated by the U.S. EPA Criminal Investigation Division, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Environmental Investigation Section, and the Internal Revenue Service.