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News >  Idaho

ITD fined for 2nd asbestos violation in a year, this one in Priest River

The Idaho Transportation Department has agreed to pay nearly $52,000 in fines for demolishing an office building in downtown Priest River that was riddled with asbestos, without taking any of the required precautions to keep the cancer-causing fibers from spreading. It’s the second time in less than a year that the ITD has done this, having agreed to pay $55,800 in fines to the Environmental Protection Agency for demolishing an asbestos-laden building in Rigby, in southeastern Idaho. “Despite assurance from ITD that they will closely follow asbestos regulations and protect their workers, we are still issuing penalties on what should be straightforward project management,” said a frustrated Ed Kowalski, director of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement in Seattle. “We’re confident that our enforcement and compliance program will ultimately help them to realize the value of doing the right thing.” ITD demolished the Rigby building in June of 2014. In November of 2014, it tore down the Jachetta Building in central Priest River, an old office building that formerly housed insurance and law offices. Only after receiving a public complaint did the ITD hire an asbestos consultant, who found materials with a range of 2 percent to 55 percent asbestos in the debris pile at the demolition site. The site, at the intersection of Highway 57 and Highway 2, is in the middle of town, surrounded by businesses, homes, and just one block from Priest River Junior High School. Federal law requires owners of buildings containing asbestos to conduct inspections and notify the EPA before demolition; ITD did neither. The EPA, which has regulated asbestos since the 1970s to protect public health, says release of asbestos fibers can negatively affect human health, causing lung disease, lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. “Asbestos is nothing to play around with,” said former state Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest River, a longtime area resident. “Several people in town were very concerned about that, because any time you do demolition you create a dust cloud.” He added, “State agencies know what can and can’t be done. … You can’t just pay fines in lieu of doing the proper demolition. Private sector can’t do that, and ITD shouldn’t be doing that.” Anderson said both the local high school and the elementary school are less than a mile from the site. “It’s just kind of a vacant lot now; they haven’t done anything with it since then,” he said. After the belated inspection ITD hired a certified asbestos cleanup contractor who removed two truckloads of contaminated debris from the site last December. ITD has had numerous environmental violations over the years. Among them: It was investigated by the EPA for violations relating to work on the Sand Creek Byway in Sandpoint in 2009; it was the target of an EPA lawsuit in federal court in 2006 for highway work that dumped tons of sediment into Lake Coeur d’Alene’s Mica Bay; and it conceded that a construction project on U.S. Highway 95 inflicted serious damage on four acres of wetlands and polluted Sand Creek in 1994 and paid penalties. During construction of I-90 in 1990, ITD lost a bulldozer and an earth mover into Lake Coeur d’Alene in a road collapse; both are there still. “We share the EPA’s concern regarding workers, supervisors and public at large in terms of health risks posed by asbestos,” ITD spokesman Reed Hollinshead said in a statement this afternoon. The agency is working on a policy to ensure that all buildings are inspected for asbestos prior to demolition.
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