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ITD fined for exposing inmate workers to asbestos

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency says Idaho inmates were exposed to asbestos when they were sent to work at an Idaho Transportation Department maintenance shop without proper training or equipment. The federal agency announced Tuesday that the Idaho Transportation Department has paid nearly $56,000 to settle the allegations. The state agency didn't admit or deny the allegations. The EPA says the transportation department hired inmates from the St. Anthony Work Camp last year to remove old flooring from a building in Rigby. But the EPA says the department didn't test for asbestos first, and instead relied on a 25-year-old test of a single sample from the maintenance shop that showed no asbestos. Tests done after an inmate complained showed the flooring contained asbestos. Asbestos can cause cancer and other health problems.

Contractor who mishandled, dumped asbestos gets 6 months in federal prison

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A former construction supervisor convicted of mishandling pipe coated with asbestos during an upgrade of Orofino's municipal water and sewer system four years ago has been sentenced six months in prison. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge handed down the punishment Wednesday in the case of 52-year-old Douglas Greiner, a former long-time employee of Owyhee Construction Inc. As part of a deal with prosecutors, Greiner pleaded guilty to one count of violating work place standards of the Clean Air Act. Federal investigators say Greiner didn't follow procedures for removing the asbestos-coated pipe and illegally dumping the material at 16 different locations around town. The Environmental Protection Agency stepped and spent more than $3.9 million to clean up the disposal sites. The ongoing EPA criminal investigation is now focused on OCI executives.

Asbestos labelling passes House

OLYMPIA — Products that contain asbestos would have to be labelled in Washington state stores under a bill that passed the House Tuesday.

Approving a bill that already passed the Senate, the House voted 65-28 to support a bill first introduced by Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, that requires construction projects that have some form of asbestos in them to be clearly labeled. It first turned down an amendment by Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, to lower the potential maximum penalties from $10,000 to $1,000. Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, said violators are more likely to get a warning and the chance to take corrective action, than a fine. The higher figure is a maximum, not a set amount for every infraction, he added.

Short said she didn't object to the concept of the bill: “People absolutely ought to have the right to know.”

The bill now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee.

Bill would require asbestos labels for home building products

OLYMPIA – People buying supplies for a home remodeling project might not realize that they have asbestos in them. The state Senate says the product should say so, right on the label.

This week, it passed a proposal sponsored by a Spokane senator to require such labels on a 47-2 vote. If the House agrees, labels on everything from wallboard to shingles to floor tiles to caulk would have to say if there’s asbestos inside.

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Bryan Students Find Tiles w/Asbestos

Two Bryan Elementary students possibly digging for “leprechaun gold” in the northwest corner of the playground (near the old oak tree) found broken, asbestos-laden tiles instead. Huckleberries has received a copy of a letter sent out by Bryan Elementary Principal Joel Palmer this afternoon assures parents that the type of asbestos found in the tiles, according to a lab report, doesn't “contain the type of asbestos that becomes airborne when disturbed and causes serious health dangers.” The Coeur d'Alene school, which is located on Harrison between 7th & 10th streets, took the following measures to ensure student safety today: The area was covered with a plastic tarp, filled with soil, covered with sod and then fenced off.” Huckleberries has learned from Bryan sources that younger students believe that a leprechaun lives in the old oak tree and has buried gold somewhere nearby. That's why some of them dig in the area. You can read Principal Palmer's letter to parents here. (SR file photo for illustrative purposes)

Question: Is the school taking the right steps to handle the problem?

Asbestos victims consider $43M deal

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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — More than 1,100 victims of asbestos contamination are nearing a $43 million settlement over claims that Montana health officials failed to warn miners about the hazards of a deadly vermiculite mine, documents in the case show.

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands sickened following decades of exposure to asbestos from the now-shuttered W.R. Grace & Co. mine in the small northwestern Montana town of Libby.

Claimant notices obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday show at least 1,125 victims are considering a deal that calls for payments ranging from $21,500 to the $60,700, depending on the severity of sickness. Attorneys in the case would get one-third of the $43 million, which would be subtracted from victim payments.

Terms of the deal were first reported by the Daily Inter Lake.

In 2004, the Montana Supreme Court said the state should have warned miners about hazards first identified by state officials in Libby in the 1950s. Attorneys for the state and victims have since been negotiating terms of a monetary settlement under which state agencies would be released from future liability.

Those negotiations stem from multiple lawsuits brought against the state asserting it failed to protect victims in Libby.

Attorney Tom Lewis, whose Great Falls firm represents some of the victims, said he could not comment on the settlement.

“The people of Libby have been waiting a long time. We've been working on this case a long time,” Lewis said. “I can't comment on ongoing litigation because it's not ethical for me to do so.”

Lewis added that claimants “have to keep quiet until this goes through the proper process.”

The Libby mine closed in 1999, and more than $300 million has been spent on a cleanup that is expected to go on for years.

W.R. Grace & Co. escaped most liability when it filed for bankruptcy after the extent of contamination was revealed.

One claimant in the state settlement said he was not satisfied with the terms but signed anyway to move on and be done with the lingering litigation. People involved in the case have been told by lawyers not to speak publicly about the case while settlement talks are ongoing, and the man spoke on condition of anonymity because he was worried about jeopardizing claims made by other members of his family.

Past coverage:

Feb. 11, 2007: Vermiculite mining in Libby left trouble in the air