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Illegal asbestos disposal gets 10-year sentence for contractor


 

An Illinois contractor who hired two men to dump 127 bags of asbestos-containing material in an open field has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

 

Duane "Butch" O'Malley was convicted by a federal jury in September 2011 for illegally removing and disposing of asbestos from a Kankakee, Ill. building. In addition to the prison term, O'Malley was ordered to pay more than $60,000 in fines and restitution for violating the federal Clean Air Act.

 

“To increase his profits, a jury found that O’Malley knowingly disregarded federal environmental laws that require asbestos-containing materials be safely removed and properly disposed,” said U.S. Attorney Jim Lewis, Central District of Illinois in a statement. “This sentence is a consequence of the defendant’s flagrant disregard for his workers, the public, and the environment in exposing them to dangerous airborne asbestos fibers.”

 

Jurors heard evidence that O’Malley, owner of Origin Fire Protection, was hired in August 2009 to remove asbestos-containing insulation from pipes in the five-story building. O’Malley, who lacked training or certification as an asbestos contractor, agreed to remove the toxic material for a substantially lower price than a trained contractor would have charged, according to prosecutors.

 

O’Malley arranged for another man, James A. Mikrut, to recruit workers to remove the asbestos. The asbestos insulation was stripped from the pipes and placed in 127 unlabeled plastic garbage bags that were dumped in an open field in Hopkins Park, a poor, predominantly black neighborhood in Kankakee County. The illegal disposal contaminated the soil, potentially exposing the workers and the public to dangerous asbestos-laden dust.

 

Asbestos is a known carcinogen that was widely used to make building and construction materials until the 1970s. Exposure to crumbled, or friable, asbestos can cause mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining the lungs and abdomen, and other respiratory illnesses. The EPA considers any amount of exposure to asbestos fibers to be a heath hazard.

 

The Clean Air Act requires building owners and contractors to follow federal work standards to ensure the safe removal of asbestos, including notifying the state and federal regulators before starting work. The law also requires that the material be disposed of at an EPA-approved site.

 

O’Malley was charged in June 2010 with five felony violations of the Clean Air Act. Also charged was Mikrut, who later pleaded guilty to five counts of violating federal law. The building's owner, Michael J. Pinski, pleaded guilty to one count.

 

In addition to substantial financial penalties and a possible five-year term for the Clean Air Act violations, Pinski and Mikrut, who await sentencing, could face an additional five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for making false statements to investigators.

 

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About The Author

Mesothelioma Options Help Center staff writer Brian Wallstin is an award-winning freelance journalist based in Concord, N.H. Brian previously worked at the Missourian from 2003-2009 as a columnist and city editor, and served as an assistant professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Prior to that, he worked as a staff reporter at the Houston Press.