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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Central District of Illinois

Monday, February 5, 2018

Sherman Man Sentenced to Three Years in Prison for Violating Clean Air Act Related to Asbestos Removal at Former Pillsbury Plant

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – U.S. District Judge Sue E. Myerscough today ordered a Sherman, Ill., man, Joseph J. Chernis, IV, to serve 37 months in federal prison for failure to adequately remove and dispose of asbestos material, violations of the Clean Air Act, at the former Pillsbury Mills facility in Springfield. Following his prison term, Chernis, 35, was ordered to remain on supervised release for a period of three years. Chernis was ordered to self-report to prison when directed by the Bureau of Prisons.  

Chernis pled guilty on April 7, 2017, to three counts of violating the Clean Air Act. Chernis admitted that he hired an untrained individual to illegally remove dry asbestos pipe insulation from the Pillsbury Mills facility. From October 2014 to August 2015, dry asbestos-containing insulation was cut and stripped from pipes inside four buildings at the facility, including the structure known as the Dryer building.

“The defendant’s illegal and reckless acts endangered the health of those performing the asbestos removal and others,” stated U.S. Attorney John E. Childress, “and caused the U.S. EPA to assume clean-up efforts at a cost of millions of dollars.”

“Asbestos can cause cancer and other serious respiratory diseases, so it is important that it be handled legally,” said Brad Ostendorf, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Illinois. “The defendant knew the rules regarding the legal removal of asbestos containing materials, but ignored them. In this way, he threatened not only the environment but the safety of his untrained workers and the general public. This case demonstrates that EPA and its partner agencies will not abide those who try to make money by breaking the law.”

Under provisions of the Clean Air Act, the EPA has promulgated rules, regulations and requirements to control the removal, handling and disposal of asbestos, a hazardous air pollutant. Any owner or operator of a renovation or demolition activity which involves removal of specified amounts of asbestos-containing material must comply with the EPA regulations. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Crystal Correa and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney James Cha, of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, represented the government in the prosecution. The charges were investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division.

Updated February 5, 2018