3 plead guilty to role in large asbestos release in MI

(courtesy www.epa.gov)

COMSTOCK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Three suspects have pleaded guilty for their roles in what investigators believe may be the largest asbestos release in Michigan since 1971.

LuAnne LaBrie of Kalamazoo, formerly known as LuAnne McClain, Cory Hammond of Hastings, and Robert “Mike” White of Kalamazoo each pleaded guilty in federal court on Wednesday to violating the Clean Air Act.

The violation occurred while they were removing asbestos material at the former power generation facility located at 6800 East Michigan Avenue in Comstock Township.

In 2011, all three suspects agreed to salvage valuable material from the facility and share in the proceeds. According to court documents, all three defendants knew that asbestos was present inside of the facility but failed to notify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the State of Michigan that it would be removed during the salvage operation.

The EPA estimates clean-up costs at $1.03 million, according to court documents.

Environmental investigators believe it may be the largest asbestos release in Michigan since it was declared a hazardous air pollutant in 1971.

LaBrie pleaded guilty to the felony offense of failing to notify federal or state authorities that asbestos material would be stripped and removed at the former power generation facility. Hammond and White each pleaded guilty to failing to adequately wet asbestos material while stripping and removing asbestos inside that facility, also a felony violation.

The suspects face a maximum of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the offense. LaBrie is expected to be sentenced in April and Hammond and White will be sentenced in July.

The suspects have also agreed to pay restitution to the EPA for costs associated with the illegal asbestos removal.

“Asbestos can cause cancer and other serious respiratory diseases and must be handled legally and safely,” said Randall Ashe, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Michigan. “The defendants directed the break-up and removal of material containing asbestos, threatening not only the environment but the safety of their workers and the general public. Today’s pleas clearly show that anyone who tries to make money by breaking the law will ultimately pay the price.”

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