Michigan Asbestos Mishandling Leads to Convictions

Three Michigan residents are facing up to five years in federal prison following their role in the state’s largest mishandled asbestos incident in at last four decades. The woman and two men pled guilty to violating the federal Clean Air Act, according to information released by the US Attorney’s Office in Grand Rapids. LuAnne LaBrie and Robert “Mike” White of Kalamazoo and Cory Hammond of Hastings failed to notify federal or state authorities that asbestos material was being stripped and removed from the former Consumers Energy power generation facility. Hammond and White also pled guilty to charges they failed to wet asbestos during the removal process. The facility is located in Comstock Township. The three embarked on the project in 2011 and agreed they would salvage material from the facility and split the proceeds. Other laborers participated in the removal project, but it is believed they were not aware of the danger.

LaBrie Acted as the Ring Leader

LaBrie had control over the facility and managed the project, regularly visiting the site and communicating with Hammond and White. Despite her knowledge of the presence of asbestos, laborers, including Hammond and White, removed asbestos insulation without notifying the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the State of Michigan. The case was investigated by the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Environmental Investigation Section, and the Internal Revenue Service. The mishandled asbestos removal led to $1 million in cleanup by the EPA’s Superfund Division. LaBrie, White, and Hammond will pay restitution to the EPA for the cleanup.

Dangers of Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is supposed to be wetted during the stripping process and collected and sealed in a leak-tight container to prevent the release of particulates. According to WebMD.com, exposure to asbestos, which increases when the material is mishandled, can cause asbestosis, an inflammatory condition of lungs that leads to shortness of breath, coughing, and eventually lung scarring of the lungs that impede breathing. Long-term exposure is believed to cause mesothelioma, a rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, chest cavity, or abdomen. It is also thought to trigger other lung problems, including pleural plaques (changes to the membranes surrounding the lungs) and pleural effusions (abnormal collections of fluid between the lungs and the inside wall of the chest. In response to the case, US Attorney Patrick Miles issued the following warning: "Those who attempt to evade the law by cutting corners to maximize profits and harm our environment will be held accountable for their actions.” LaBrie is due to be sentenced April 23, 2014, and Hammond’s and White’s sentence hearings are scheduled for July 6, 2014. References: http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2015/02/trio_pleads_guilty_to_violatin.html Previous: Michigan Taking Action Against Asbestos Abatement Companies Next: Pembrolizumab Brings Hope for Mesothelioma Victims