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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Indiana

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Indianapolis contractor prosecuted for illegal asbestos removal

Indianapolis – United States Attorney Josh Minkler today announced that Paul Walker, 56, Indianapolis was prosecuted in federal court for illegally removing asbestos from an inhabited apartment building.  Walker was charged with negligent endangerment under the federal Clean Air Act.  On Monday, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced by U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra McVicker Lynch to four months of house arrest, two years of probation, and a $2,000 fine.

“Asbestos is a dangerous substance and putting people at risk by illegally removing it is a federal crime,” Minkler said.  “If you must remove asbestos, do it the right way and follow the law.  If you cut corners to try to save a buck, you will be caught and prosecuted.”   

Walker was an Indianapolis-based contractor who performed maintenance and renovation work on an apartment building at 38th Street and Central Avenue in Indianapolis.  In mid-2015, Walker agreed to a renovation project that involved removing asbestos insulation from piping and a boiler in the building’s basement.  He told the building owner that the abatement work would be subcontracted to a licensed asbestos abatement company so that “all permits and all proper paperwork [would] be submitted to the state and everyone concerned.”  He even obtained and sent the building owner a quote for the work from a licensed abatement company.

In July 2015, Walker removed the asbestos himself.  Doing so saved him the expense of hiring the professional abatement firm, but it also put the residents of the building at risk for exposure to harmful asbestos fibers.  Asbestos insulation, when left undisturbed, generally does not pose a risk.  Removing asbestos, however, can release asbestos fibers into the air.  Federal law describes in detail how asbestos must be safely removed, such as by wetting the asbestos material and carefully removing and disposing of it.  Walker failed to follow these rules, and as a result, allowed asbestos fibers to be released.

Later testing revealed that although the asbestos fibers did not reach the inhabited floors of the building, Walker’s actions placed the residents at risk of exposure to asbestos fibers.   The asbestos was eventually properly removed by a professional abatement firm, at Walker’s expense.  Nevertheless, because Walker’s misconduct put residents at risk for exposure, he faced prosecution for Negligent Endangerment. 

"The defendant was responsible for the renovation of an apartment building which he knew contained asbestos and endangered the health and safety of local residents by failing to follow proper asbestos removal procedures," said Jeffrey Martinez, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's criminal enforcement program in Indiana.  "The public health dangers of asbestos exposure are well known, and this case demonstrates that those who fail to follow by the law will be held to account."

“The investigation began when the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) received a complaint and sent to the site an air quality inspector,” said IDEM Commissioner Carol S. Comer. “The inspection report was evaluated by IDEM’s Office of Criminal Investigations which notified the U.S. EPA’s Criminal Investigations Division in Indianapolis. This conviction sends a clear message that people who willfully defy the law will be fully investigated to ensure human health and the environment are protected. We are grateful for the assistance of our federal partners in this joint investigation.”

Assistant United States Attorney Nick Linder prosecuted this case for the government.

Updated August 10, 2016