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For immediate release -- Tuesday, May 5, 2009.
Contact Bob Brammer -- 515-281-6699, or rbrammer@ag.state.ia.us

Equitable L.P. Ordered to Pay $500,000 for Asbestos Violations at Equitable Building.

Attorney General Miller says penalty is largest ever in Iowa for asbestos violations.

Des Moines. Equitable L.P. has been ordered to pay a $500,000 environmental civil penalty for conducting extensive renovations of the historic Equitable Building in downtown Des Moines without taking required precautions for the presence of asbestos-containing material.

“This is the largest civil penalty by far in Iowa for asbestos violations,” said Attorney General Tom Miller. “We alleged Equitable L.P. completely ignored asbestos-handling requirements during renovations from 2005 to 2007, until the Iowa DNR became involved.”

Asbestos – which often is present in older building materials – is regulated as a hazardous air pollutant. It can cause lung disease and cancer, especially if it is contained in dust when asbestos-containing material is crumbled, pulverized or reduced to powder. State and federal laws and regulations have stringent requirements for handling regulated asbestos-containing material during demolition or renovations.

The Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging numerous violations from 2005 to 2008. At the same time, Polk County District Court Judge D.J. Stovall entered a “Consent Order, Judgment and Decree” that was agreed-to by the parties and resolved the suit. [Go to: Lawsuit.] [Go to Consent Order).]

Under the Consent Order, Equitable L.P. admitted to specific violations and agreed to pay the $500,000 civil penalty to the State of Iowa. Judge Stovall also permanently prohibited any further violations.

Department of Natural Resources Director Richard Leopold said the amount of the civil penalty underscores the importance of properly handling and disposing of asbestos during renovation and demolition projects.

“What’s important to remember is that asbestos poses potentially serious health implications and that we do not have a situation like this happen again,” Leopold said. “This enforcement action should serve as a warning that the regulations relating to asbestos removal and disposal will be vigorously enforced.”

The 19-story Equitable Building, at 604 Locust St. in Des Moines, was completed in 1924 and for 49 years was the tallest building in Iowa.

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The Attorney General’s lawsuit vs. Equitable L.P.:

The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleged that Equitable L.P., while renovating the top 13 floors of the Equitable Building from 2005 to 2008, failed to inspect for asbestos, failed to provide notice to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, failed to remove asbestos-containing material before renovation, failed to properly handle the asbestos-containing material disturbed during the renovation, and failed to properly dispose of the material. The first six floors were occupied during the renovation.

The Polk County Health Dept. forwarded an anonymous complaint about the renovation project to the DNR in the latter part of 2007, and the DNR investigated and documented numerous violations. The DNR issued an administrative order requiring Equitable L.P. to stop activities until all floors were thoroughly inspected and all asbestos-containing material was removed by a licensed asbestos-abatement contractor – but Equitable L.P. continued with renovation in violation of the order, the suit alleged.

The DNR issued a second Notice of Violation to Equitable L.P. in February 2008 for failing to comply with the earlier DNR administrative order. The renovations were completed in 2008 with no additional violations reported.

In the Consent Order, Judgment and Decree entered Tuesday, Equitable L.P. admitted that it:

  • Failed to thoroughly inspect the Equitable Building for the presence of asbestos prior to starting renovation activities.

  • Failed to submit written notice of renovation activities to the DNR before beginning the renovation. >

  • Conducted the building renovation without taking precautions for the potential presence of asbestos-containing material.


Regulation of Asbestos:

The Iowa DNR discusses the risks of asbestos in a booklet titled, “Why Regulate Asbestos?” The DNR said: When asbestos-containing material is disturbed, microscopic fibers are released. These fibers can remain airborne almost indefinitely and can travel great distances. If inhaled, they can become permanently lodged in the lungs and may cause Asbestosis (a chronic lung disease known to scar lung tissue, create breathing difficulty, shortness of breath and reduced lung capacity; lung damage is permanent and may be fatal) and Mesothelioma (a fatal cancer of the membranes that line the chest and abdomen caused by exposure to asbestos fibers). There is no known safe level of asbestos exposure, and symptoms may not appear for up to 20 years after exposure. (See link to more DNR info, below.)

Uncontained asbestos fibers in the air are a threat to workers, other tenants, or anyone who might be exposed to them.

For more information from the DNR on asbestos and asbestos-handling requirements, go to http://www.iowadnr.gov/air/prof/asbestos/asbestos.html.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) asbestos web page link is: http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/index.html.

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