The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has charged officials with the city of Marco Island, Florida, with violations of the Clean Air Act. According to an EPA statement, the city and the contractors they hired, Quality Enterprises, failed to follow proper procedures for disposing of debris from a demolished cement pipe that contained asbestos. The statement specified that Quality Enterprises conducted a renovation project on a local road in 2006, which included rebuilding the roadbed and relocating water and electrical service as well as removing the asbestos-laced pipes.
Officials at the EPA office in Atlanta sent a letter to Marco Island City Manager Steve Thompson regarding the charges. EPA investigators noted six violations of the Clean Air Act regarding the handling, disposal and removal of the asbestos. The violations were listed as:
- Failure to move the asbestos-laced debris to a waste management site equipped to deal with the hazardous substance.
- Failure to have a trained and certified asbestos expert on-site.
- Failure to spray the asbestos-laced debris with water in order to prevent the dangerous fibers from becoming airborne
- Failure to dispose of all asbestos-laced debris before work began that could break the material and cause breathing hazards
- Failure to carry out a thorough asbestos inspection of the site
- Failure to provide the required notification to state and federal environmental agencies.
Mr. Thompson responded that the potential violations had been an ongoing issue between the city and the EPA. He did not say whether or not the city “did anything wrong” or whether “mistakes were made” during the renovation project. He mentioned that the city council and the federal agency had “some dispute over the facts” and that the city attorney’s office, Quality Enterprises, and the EPA would be discussing the outcome of the recent findings.
Curt Fehn, head of the EPA’s asbestos violations division, said that he sent the letter to the city outlining the violations. The letter specified that the agency would meet with city leaders and Quality Enterprises management to go over the allegations and to seek remedies for a settlement rather than pursue criminal prosecution. If the agency chooses to prosecute, the city and Quality Management could face fines of nearly $40,000 per day during the period covered by the violations.
Several City Council members reacted to the severity of the allegations. Council Chairman Frank Recker stated that the council had been kept in the dark about the six letters stating the individual violations in 2009 and were unprepared to counter them. Joe Batte remarked that the letter was “serious” and “goes way beyond fact-finding.” Chuck Keister said that the council “should have been kept apprised” of the charges, as well as the potential penalties. Jerry Gibson said that the letters were a bullying tactic and an effort to scare the city into paying fines for non-existent violations.
During a “town hall” meeting at a City Council session, a number of local residents spoke out on the issue, questioning Mr. Thompson and the council as to what they knew about the accusations. Mr. Thompson said that he received the letter outlining the charges in late March and told council members that week.
Sources: WZVN, Naples News, Ft. Myers News Press