Public Safety

Man who burned five trailer homes faces thousands in fines from AG's office

Homes contained asbestos, state officials say

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office is seeking thousands of dollars in penalties from a Belle Plaine man who allegedly burned trailer homes containing asbestos after he was warned not to do so by the Belle Plaine Fire Department.

According to a news release, the Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, filed a petition in equity on Nov. 2 against Joel G. Thys in Iowa District Court in Benton County.

The lawsuit seeks civil penalties of up to $15,000 per day for violating regulations on asbestos disposal, open burning and open dumping, as well as a permanent injunction against Thys to prevent future violations.

The lawsuit states that in February 2017, Thys created a 20-foot burn pile that contained trees and five trailer homes on his property in Belle Plaine, near his car dealership and a residential area. The Attorney General’s Office says the local fire chief warned Thys not to burn the pile, and the city denied his request for a burn permit.

Thys ignored the warning, according to the lawsuit, and began to burn the pile around 3 a.m. on Feb. 20. The pile of debris smoldered for a month, until about March 22, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Samples taken from the debris confirmed the presence of asbestos, the lawsuit states. Asbestos is a hazardous air pollutant known to cause disease and cancer in humans, the Attorney General’s Office said, adding there is no known safe level of asbestos exposure.

Before the 2017 burn, the Department of Natural Resources twice cited Thys for open burning violations and once for asbestos violations.

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