BUTTE — An asbestos-disposal contractor is taking Montana environmental officials to court for failing to crack down on the improper disposal of asbestos, a commonly used and potentially deadly building material.
Ingraham Environmental of Butte said in a lawsuit filed in state District Court in Silver Bow-Butte County that asbestos-containing material is being dumped in open-air sites at Montana landfills. That poses a danger to workers and anyone who breathes in the air around the dumps, the company alleged.
“We have the laws on the books,” Doug Ingraham of Ingraham Environmental told The Montana Standard. “We think the rules protect us, but there’s no enforcement.”
Attorneys for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality said in response that the agency was not required to more aggressively enforce laws on asbestos disposal.
The case is before Judge Brad Newman.
Montana’s laws are quite strict — even more stringent than federal regulations — regarding the disposal of asbestos. The fibrous material can cause pulmonary diseases including mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung with a near-100 percent fatality rate.
State regulations require asbestos to be treated differently than common waste. However, the primary responsibility for compliance is placed on the building owner.
In its initial answer to the lawsuit, DEQ attorneys did not deny that the unregulated asbestos dumping described in the lawsuit was occurring. But they said landfill operators and building owners were accountable — not the state.
DEQ public policy director Kristi Ponozzo said the agency was working with representatives of the asbestos industry to address complexities within the state and federal laws that govern asbestos regulation. The agency convened an asbestos advisory group last year to help increase awareness and compliance with disposal rules, she said.
Asbestos already has taken a huge human and financial toll in Montana, most notably in the town of Libby, where health officials say contamination from asbestos-tainted vermiculite has killed hundreds of people and sickened thousands.
The vermiculite came from a W.R. Grace mine that for decades produced material for Zonolite insulation, which was sold widely in Montana and other states.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spent more than $575 million cleaning up almost 2,500 residential and commercial properties in Libby and surrounding areas. But it has done little to address the problems that arise elsewhere when structures with Zonolite are demolished or remodeled.
Ingraham said such work poses an enduring danger for construction, demolition and landfill workers as well as anyone else in the vicinity when asbestos fibers are released into the air.
Ingraham’s family has been in the asbestos abatement business since the 1980s. His father, Bruce, was trained by people who have since died of asbestos-related disease, he said.
“We’re not asking for new rules,” Ingraham said. “We’re just asking that DEQ assume responsibility.”
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