Three Plead Guilty to Violating the Clean Air Act at the Former Consumers Energy Facility in Comstock Township
Major asbestos release resulted in a $1 million cleanup by EPA’s Superfund Division
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN – Three individuals have pled guilty to violating the federal Clean Air Act for their roles in what environmental investigators believe may be the largest asbestos release in Michigan since it was declared a hazardous air pollutant in 1971.
LuAnne LaBrie of Kalamazoo, formerly known as LuAnne McClain; Cory Hammond of Hastings; and Robert “Mike” White of Kalamazoo each pled guilty in federal court to violating the Clean Air Act. LaBrie pled guilty to the felony offense of failing to notify federal or state authorities that asbestos material would be stripped and removed at the former power generation facility located at 6800 East Michigan Avenue in Comstock Township, Michigan. Hammond and White each pled guilty to failing to adequately wet asbestos material while stripping and removing asbestos inside that facility, also a felony violation.
In 2011, LaBrie, Hammond, and White agreed to salvage valuable material from the facility and share in the proceeds. All three defendants knew that asbestos was present inside of the facility. LaBrie supervised and controlled the facility, visited the site on a regular basis, and communicated with White and Hammond concerning the status of the salvage operation. Despite knowing that Hammond, White, and other laborers were stripping and removing asbestos insulation from pipes and facility components, LaBrie failed to notify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the State of Michigan that the salvage operation would involve the removal of asbestos inside the facility. Hammond and White admitted to failing to adequately wet asbestos material that had been stripped and removed until it was collected and sealed in a leak-tight container to prevent the release of asbestos particulates during the salvage operation. The defendants agreed to pay restitution to the EPA for remediation costs associated with the illegal asbestos removal at the facility.
The defendants face a maximum of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the offense, but the Court will determine the sentence after considering the federal sentencing guidelines and statutory sentencing factors. LaBrie will be sentenced in April 2015 by U.S. District Judge Gordon J. Quist. Hammond and White will be sentenced in July 2015 by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker.
“Companies and individuals handling regulated asbestos material must follow basic workplace practices designed to protect both the workers who handle the hazardous material and the air we all breathe,” said U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles. “Those who attempt to evade the law by cutting corners to maximize profits and harm our environment will be held accountable for their actions.”
“Asbestos can cause cancer and other serious respiratory diseases and must be handled legally and safely,” said Randall Ashe, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Michigan. “The defendants directed the break-up and removal of material containing asbestos, threatening not only the environment but the safety of their workers and the general public. Today’s pleas clearly show that anyone who tries to make money by breaking the law will ultimately pay the price.”
This case was investigated by the U.S. EPA Criminal Investigation Division, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Environmental Investigation Section, and the Internal Revenue Service. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher O’Connor represented the United States.