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Salvage company owners accused of ignoring asbestos regulations


Four Tennessee men will stand trial on charges that they ignored environmental laws while removing asbestos from an industrial site, putting unprotected workers and nearby residents at risk.

The four men, owners or managers of two salvage companies, are accused of conspiring to violate the Clean Air Act while salvaging materials and equipment at Liberty Fibers, a bankrupt manufacturing plant in Hamblen County.

According to a September 2011 indictment, the defendants — Newell Lynn "Nick" Smith, Armida Di Santi, Milto Di Santi and Mark C. Sawyer — knew the Liberty plant was laden with asbestos yet did not follow federal laws designed to ensure the contaminated material is removed, stored and disposed of safely.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Guyton set a trial date of Feb. 6 for the four men. A fifth man, Eric M. Gruenberg, has agreed to plead guilty, the paper said.

Prosecutors say the defendants used power saws and a track hoe outfitted with shears to tear down pipes that were wrapped in asbestos-containing insulation. The men then allegedly dumped the debris in piles or buried it, instead of properly storing it in a contained area until it could be disposed of at an approved landfill.

The indictment alleges that the defendants failed to wet down the material to prevent the release of asbestos fibers into the air, as required by federal law. And it accused the men of hiring workers unskilled in asbestos abatement — also a violation of the law — and then failing to provide them with respirators or other protective gear.

Prosecutors say the defendants tried to conceal the illegal abatement practices from authorities by attempting to hide workers or ordering them to leave the plant via a back door when environmental inspectors arrived.