116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A Linn County judge has ordered a Cedar Rapids contractor to pay $40,000 as part of a settlement for improper asbestos removal during renovations at Washington High School in 2014 and 2015.
The order, signed Monday, resolves a 2019 lawsuit by the state against Abatement Specialties alleging the company failed to thoroughly inspect for and remove asbestos before renovation, failed to adequately wet the material, and failed to carefully lower it to the ground during removal.
“We cannot allow companies to willfully put Iowans, and in this case our students, at risk by skirting or ignoring these important measures,” Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said in a statement Tuesday. “This agreement sends a clear message that companies who don’t do the work to ensure asbestos abatement before renovation projects will be held accountable for their actions.”
Washington was closed July 8, 2015, after an air sample test showed asbestos fibers in the air above an acceptable level during a renovation project, The Gazette reported. An anonymous tipster reported seeing asbestos-filled debris in the school hallways during the renovation.
An investigation by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources showed communication and oversight problems led to the release of asbestos into the air, possibly exposing more than 100 construction workers to the carcinogen.
The Iowa DNR found both the Cedar Rapids Community School District and Abatement Specialties in violation of EPA asbestos regulations at that time. The district settled with the state in 2017, agreeing to produce a video on asbestos requirements within schools and make the video available online to other Iowa districts.
Abatement Specialties, which specializes in asbestos abatement, inspections, mold and lead-based paint remediation, demolition, insulation and installation of fire stopping, did not return a phone call Tuesday requesting comment on the settlement.
Wally Taylor, a Cedar Rapids attorney who represented Abatement Specialties, reached out after the article ran in the newspaper and said Iowa law requires the abatement contractor to be strictly liable, even if other contractors on the job were responsible or shared the blame.
“Faced with that situation and considering the risks and cost of litigation, Abatement Specialties decided to settle the matter with the State,” Taylor said in an email Wednesday.
The company admitted to the violations for the purpose of the settlement, but goes not admit any “error, wrongdoing, or liability.”
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