Russell Stewart, a one-time demolition company owner in the Cleveland, Ohio, area was sentenced to 21 months behind bars and fined nearly $900,000 in restitution. Stewart owned and operated Chemstruction in Chardon, Ohio. However, an investigation that began in 2012 found that he failed to get rid of asbestos while working on a large scale, 500-acre project in nearby Canton. Stewart used improper removal methods. He pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act which protects the public from exposure to airborne contaminants.
Asbestos was one of the first hazardous air pollutants listed under the federal air toxins program. Scientists have linked the toxin with dangerous respiratory diseases including asbestosis, an inflammatory condition of the lungs that can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and permanent lung damage, and mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer that affects the stomach and intestines. It also increases the risk of developing lung cancer. Costs associated with removing asbestos from construction sites varies depending on the extent of the work to be done, but can easily cost thousands of dollars. Evidently, Stewart felt the cost wasn’t worth taking care of the issue and the short-term decision may have extremely hazardous long-term effects.
Stewart admitted he was in the wrong by implementing improper asbestos demolition and failing to remove toxins in a timely manner at the former Stark Ceramics manufacturing plant. His contract specified that he must remove all asbestos-containing materials “in accordance with environmental regulation and industry standards,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. “An earlier environmental survey showed asbestos was present throughout the site.”
The project occurred over the span of roughly fourteen months between November 2011 and January 2013. A site inspector found evidence of asbestos back in October 2012 and instructed Stewart to come up with an immediate plan to clean it up. However, he refused, continuing the demolition utilizing improper removal methods and causing asbestos panels to crumble and be pulverized to powder. Construction continued on schedule despite the unlawful work conditions.
“Debris from the crushed panels littered the site. The debris remained in such condition for weeks and was exposed to wind and the elements,” the criminal charge read. This exposed both workers and surrounding residents to the cancer-causing particles.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted the case, and the federal and Ohio EPAs and the state Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation were all involved. According to Scot Adair, the special agent in charge of The Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in the state of Ohio, Stewart’s decision to cut corners “released asbestos fibers into the environment and resulted in an $800,000 cleanup funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It’s imperative that asbestos be removed safely, and EPA and its law enforcement partners will hold to account those who refuse to obey the law.”
Stewart was ultimately held liable for the costly clean up bill and is so far the only contractor to have been prosecuted for improper asbestos removal at the site. He has been incarcerated at Trumbull Correctional Institution since January 2017.