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Boise construction company fined for asbestos violation

By John Sowell,

Judges_GavelOwyhee Construction Inc. will pay $100,000 and spend three years on probation after violating a federal environmental law when it failed to capture broken cement pipe that contained asbestos during a 2009 upgrade of the city of Orofino’s water lines.

The federal government is also seeking $2.5 million in cleanup restitution, with the final amount to be determined through a civil enforcement action brought against the company and others with potential liability, according to federal court records.

Cement pipe that contains asbestos is considered safe. However, when it is broken, asbestos fibers become airborne and pose a health hazard to anyone breathing them in. Although the company knew the water system contained up to 5,000 feet of pipe containing asbestos, the onsite manager and foreman failed to properly supervise the $3 million project to ensure the material was encased and disposed of properly. Instead, the waste materials were used as fill on 16 private properties around Orofino.

“Deceived into thinking Owyhee Construction had provided them with ‘clean fill,’ citizens and businesses of Orofino used the material to fill their, driveways and yards. The result: a contaminated mixture of crushed pipe and debris laced with harmful asbestos spread over 16 separate sites,” said Tyler Amon,special agent in charge for the criminal investigation division for the Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle.

The EPA spent $3.9 million to clean up the material.

District Judge Edward J. Lodge also ordered Owyhee Construction to implement a compliance and ethics program.

Last year, two Owyhee employees were convicted of violating the asbestos work standards of the federal Clean Air Act. Bradley Eberhart, 52, of Garden Valley and Douglas Greiner, 53, each served six months in prison and six months of home confinement.

Greiner was the project superintendent and Eberhart served as the onsite supervisor. The government accused both men of failing to properly supervise the project. Employees who completed the work were not properly trained in asbestos removal and failed to wear proper protective gear. Read more