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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

Student says mysterious illnesses caused by school’s air quality

By Meghan Schiller,

gasmaskA Penn High School student says he is being poisoned by the air in his school. He believes the chemicals and mold in the air are making it difficult for him to breathe. His family is getting the Indiana Department of Health involved.

In a few days, 16-year-old Cody Hicks will go to Indianapolis to get tested by a toxicology specialist. He hopes to find an answer to his mysterious health problems.
“Think of your lungs burning and it felt like something was stabbing them,” said Hicks.

That’s how Hicks says he feels when he walks the halls of Penn High School.

He has dozens of doctor notes, prescriptions for every allergy medication in the book and 4 pages listing his excused absences.

“My doctor was completely baffled- he had no idea. He said an allergic reaction, but I’m not sure what’s causing it,” said Hicks.

The family gave us pictures showing possible issues inside the school. they believe the photos show mold, fungal growth, water leaks, and chemical cleaners.

Hicks says the only way he could walk down the halls without wanting to collapse was to wear a gas mask.

“I had to wear a gas mask through the halls because when I walked through the halls it would really get to me– it was like the worst area in the entire school,” said Hicks.

“I think they believe he’s making this up,” said Hicks’ mother Bonnie Hicks. “I know he’s not making this up.”

Hicks says he wasn’t allowed to walk the halls with the mask on.

His mom contacted the Indiana Health Department. They conducted an indoor air quality evaluation at the school.

The Health Department sent a letter to the superintendent on June 12 giving the district 60 days to take action on three deficiencies.

They include classrooms that exceeded the acceptable level of carbon dioxide, stained ceiling tiles in classrooms that show a moisture problem and use of chemicals such as Windex and other cleaners that aggravates respiratory conditions. Read more

Mold-infested home with no clear owner a ‘serious’ health threat to neighbors

By Tom Perkins,

mold houseOn any sunny, summer afternoon on Hawthorne Avenue in Ypsilanti Township, the unmistakable stench of mold and mildew wafts down the street.


That’s because a vacant house at 1070 Hawthorne is flooded with several feet of water and infested with mold, and officials say that’s a health threat to neighbors who have complained about issue at the property for several months.


At its June 17 meeting, the Board of Trustees formally approved township staff seeking a court order to bring the house up to code or to have it demolished.


In all likelihood, the home will soon be razed said Mike Radzik, director of the office of community standards.


“The basement has been flooded, it’s full of water, the stench can be smelled at the sidewalk and neighbors’ houses,” Radzik said. “We’ll be going after whichever bank we find owns it, but at this point we’re probably going for demolition because it’s so far gone that even Habitat for Humanity won’t want it.”


Who the township holds financially responsible for the probable demolition is unclear, Radzik said, because it isn’t known who holds the mortgage.


The original occupants were kicked out after foreclosing in January leading the the township to contact the owner of record, Columbus, OH-based US Bank National Association.


That bank said the mortgage was sold to Chase Bank, which assured the township it would send an agent to secure and clean the property.


But the house was left open and debris and junk littered the yard. The utilities were also left on for several months, causing a pipe to burst and the basement to flood. The continuously flowing water led to a $5,655 water bill for the property.


Chase Bank then told the township it no longer held the mortgage and didn’t know where it went.


“Meanwhile, neighbors continued to complain about a growing stench emanating from the house,” Radzik said. “It presents a serious health and safety threat to neighboring residents due to the unabated mold that is causing a strong stench to permeate the area.”


The home has been padlocked and township officials cleared the blight and junk from the yard. Radzik said he township would continue to seek the mortgage holder and bill the bank once they’re found, or place a lien on the property to recover the costs of cleaning the property, securing the home and the likely demolition. Read more


Solvent, paint exposure beyond moderate level could be a memory buster, says new study

By Judy Mottl,

brainExtensive exposure to solvents, paints and glue may lead to memory issues later in life, says a new research report, though moderate exposure appears not to have such a damaging effect.

The study released Tuesday evaluated lifetime exposure among 2,143 utility workers in France who spent workdays dealing with petroleum solvents, benzene and chlorinated solvents. Of the group, 26 percent were exposed to benzene, 33 percent to chlorinated solvents and 25 percent to petroleum solvents.

“Our findings are particularly important because exposure to solvents is very common, even in industrialized countries like the United States,” said study author Erika L. Sabbath, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

The results state that cognitive impact among moderately exposed workers may subside over a period of time but that may not be the case for higher-exposure situations.

“This has implications for physicians working with formerly solvent-exposed patients as well as for workplace exposure limit policies,” states the study. Read more