The owner of Cheery Way, Inc. recently pleaded guilty and could face up to two years in prison, in addition to thousands of dollars in fines, after failing to tell Louisiana regulators about asbestos in a steamboat owned by her company prior to it being demolished. Cheery Way also faces fines and the chance of up to five years’ probation. Sentencing for the incident is scheduled for May.
Both the company and the owner agreed to plead guilty to violations of the Clean Air Act. They waived indictment after prosecutors filed evidence showing she knew the ship contained asbestos, but failed to notify the demolition company prior to the project.
Removal of Asbestos
Projects involving the removal of asbestos are heavily regulated because of the danger associated with the material. When asbestos fibers are disturbed, which they usually are during removal, they can become airborne and if inhaled or swallowed drastically increase risk for developing asbestos-related illnesses.
According to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), asbestos is a recognized health hazard that is governed by regulations issued by OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to their website:
Asbestos fibers associated with these health risks are too small to be seen with the naked eye. Breathing asbestos fibers can cause a buildup of scar-like tissue in the lungs called asbestosis and result in loss of lung function that often progresses to disability and death. Asbestos also causes cancer of the lung and other diseases such as mesothelioma of the pleura which is a fatal malignant tumor of the membrane lining the cavity of the lung or stomach. Epidemiologic evidence has increasingly shown that all asbestos fiber types, including the most commonly used form of asbestos, chrysotile, causes mesothelioma in humans.
Removing asbestos is also a highly regulated process that requires a great deal of training and must be performed by a certified professional. There are both state and federal guidelines and penalties related to asbestos removal projects. For instance, the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) regulations under the Clean Air Act specify work practices for asbestos to be followed during demolitions and renovations of all structures, installations, and various buildings. Regulations require owners or operators to notify the appropriate state agency prior to demolition, or before any renovations occur.
Furthermore, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA)’s Model Accreditation Plan requires asbestos professionals be accredited under a training program at least as stringent as the Plan.
Mississippi Queen Owner Aware of Asbestos on Boat
The Mississippi Queen was a 376-foot boat that began operation in 1976 on the Mississippi River. It was originally owned by the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., but after the company went bankrupt in 2001, was purchased by another company. It was taken out of service in 2007 to be renovated, but the project failed, and the steamboat was sold for scrap to the woman’s company in 2010.
In 2011, a Department of Environmental Quality probe determined asbestos-related work was being conducted on the steamboat in May 2011 at the Argosy Boat Co. Cheery Way had requested testing and found asbestos in the boat, according to the documents submitted to the court by the prosecution, but the company failed to inform regulators or Argosy, who had no prior experience or certification for working with asbestos. Workers began the construction project unaware of the asbestos, despite Cheery Way’s testing.
The owner of Argosy Boat reported the job was his company’s first and cost him everything he had. He was not named in the suit against Cheery Way and claims to have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.