Grede – a company that manufactures gray and ductile iron castings and machines iron, aluminum and steel components for the transportation and industrial markets – and three of the its supervisors have been indicted on a number of counts of “misleading and thwarting” federal and state regulators who were investigating allegations of asbestos exposure at Grede’s now-defunct plant in Berlin, Wisconsin.
According to the indictment, the supervisors named in the asbestos violations lied to the inspectors who visited the plant in 2012 after receiving a phone call from concerned workers who were exposed to the toxic material after being charged with the task of refurbishing an old heat treat oven.
The oven is used to make molds for brackets, engine parts and other items, according to the indictment, which became public earlier this week.
The evidence that safety officials for the company tried to cover up the incident became obvious when an old email was revealed, which mentioned a possible $70,000 federal fine that company execs feared would be imposed upon Grede should someone find out what happened.
The email concluded with a sentence that requested the Berlin plant staff to “keep this information under rap [sic]” until they were able to devise a plan to deal with the issue at hand.
Named in the indictment are Peter Mark, 53, of Ixonia, corporate safety and environmental director; Christy McNamee, 40, of Zanesville, Ohio, safety coordinator at the former Grede foundry in Berlin; and Steven O’Connell, 51, also of Zanesville, operations manager at the facility.
The company also was named as a defendant, according to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
With the indictment comes a host of penalties that these individuals – and the company – could be facing. Technically, the three supervisors could be given prison sentences of 11 to 41 years, though it’s like that the sentence wouldn’t be quite that stiff, say federal officials.
Nevertheless, they also face several thousands of dollars in fines and the company could be made to pay millions in criminal penalties.
Lawyers for the company defended their client, maintaining that Grede has been more diligent in addressing health and safety issues since the Berlin plant closed in 2012.
“At Grede, the health and safety of our employees are always our top priority, and we strive to always follow all state and federal laws and regulations. This matter arises from events that occurred five years ago at Grede’s Berlin, Wisconsin, facility that is now closed.
Grede has worked hard to enhance its environmental and safety compliance program over the past several years.”
The attorneys said they were unable to comment further, but a lawyer for one of the supervisors mentioned “incorrect information” in the indictment and said he would be mounting a “strong, thoughtful, and thorough defense.”
In the meantime, the workers – who had inadequate protection while working with jackhammers and chisels on the old oven – will live with the fact that they were exposed to asbestos and, as such, may eventually develop an exposure-related disease, such as mesothelioma.
Though company supervisors continuously told the employees that their risk was low, it has become clear through studies conducted over the last several decades that even a small amount of exposure is dangerous.