Illinois Man Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison for Clean Air Act Violations Involving Asbestos

Duane “Butch” O’Malley, 59, of Bourbonnais, Ill., who was convicted by a federal jury on September 26, 2011, for the illegal removal, handling and disposal of asbestos from a Kankakee building in August 2009, was sentenced to 10 years in prison by Federal District Court Judge Michael McCuskey. O’Malley was also ordered to pay restitution of $47,086 to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) related to the clean-up of illegally disposed asbestos and ordered to pay a fine of $15,000. Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials. When asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed by repair, remodeling or demolition activities, microscopic fibers become airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause serious health problems, including lung cancer and mesothelioma.

“Asbestos must be removed in a safe and legal way in order to protect people's health and reduce the risk of exposure,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The defendant’s actions endangered the health of his workers and the surrounding community and the sentence shows that those who violate critical environmental safeguards will be prosecuted.”

“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. “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.”

During O’Malley’s trial, the government presented evidence that O’Malley, owner and operator of Origin Fire Protection, was hired by Michael J. Pinski in August 2009 to remove asbestos-containing insulation from pipes in a five-story building in Kankakee, Ill. that was owned by Pinski through his company, Dearborn Management, Inc. Evidence was presented that neither O’Malley nor his company was trained to perform the asbestos removal work and that O’Malley agreed to remove the asbestos insulation for an amount that was substantially less than a trained asbestos abatement contractor would have charged to perform the work. Further, O’Malley arranged for James A. Mikrut to recruit and oversee workers to remove the asbestos.

The government’s evidence showed that various provisions of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and EPA regulations were violated, including, failure to properly notify the EPA, failure to have trained on-site representatives present, failure to ensure the asbestos insulation was adequately wetted while it was being stripped and removed, failure to mark vehicles used to transport the asbestos containing waste material and failure to deposit the asbestos in a waste disposal site for asbestos. Instead, the asbestos insulation was stripped from the pipes while dry, and then placed in more than 100 large, unlabeled plastic garbage bags. The bags were then dumped in an open field in Hopkins Park, resulting in soil contamination and exposing the workers hired by O’Malley to dangerous asbestos-laden dust.

Under the CAA there are requirements to control the removal, handling and disposal of asbestos, a hazardous air pollutant. Any owner or operator of a renovation or demolition activity which involves removal of specified amounts of asbestos-containing material must comply with the EPA regulations.

O’Malley was charged in June 2010 with five felony violations of the CAA, along with Michael J. Pinski, 42, of Kankakee, Ill., and James A. Mikrut, 49, of Manteno, Ill. Pinski entered a plea of guilty on Aug. 19, 2011, to one count of violation of the Clean Air Act. Mikrut pleaded guilty on Aug. 24, 2011, to five counts of violation of the CAA. The sentencing hearings for Pinski and Mikrut will be scheduled at a future date.

The charges were investigated by EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, with assistance from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Division. Assistant United States Attorney Eugene L. Miller and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney James Cha are prosecuting the case.

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