City Officials Knowingly Allowed Employee Asbestos Exposure
Two city officials from Marion, South Carolina have been indicted for allowing their employees to work inside buildings filled with toxic asbestos and also for allowing the release of asbestos-containing fibers from hazardous waste into the atmosphere. The men face both fines and jail time if convicted.
The two men, Marion City Administrator Alan Thomas Ammons and Marion Fire Chief Ralph Walton Cooper, III, face charges of “misconduct in office, conspiracy to violate the pollution control act, and violation of the pollution control act,” reports a story aired on WBTW-TV.
The indictments, filed on November 2, state that the men were aware that the Marion Fire Department Buildings in question contained asbestos yet they “allowed fire department staff, volunteers, and members of the community to be exposed to asbestos and be present in asbestos-contaminated locations during the demolition and preparation of the City of Marion Fire Department building.”
Ammons and Walton were also indicted for “misconduct in office”, specifically, for violating the rules of the pollution control act by allowing asbestos-containing waste to be discharged into the environment, where dangerous fibers could be inhaled by anyone in the vicinity.
The infractions occurred between February and May of this year. They were discovered by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control during an inspection.
Marion mayor, Ashley Brady, responded to the allegations with the following statement:
The city of Marion is aware of the indictments against the two of its employees. We are monitoring the situation. And are in the process of determining what action, if any needs to be taken by the City of Marion. However, because this is a personal matter there will be no further comment until the charges are resolved through the legal process.
Ammons added that asbestos had been in the building for a long time – probably decades – but it hadn’t been discovered until floor tiles were pulled up after damage resulted from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
But while inspection officials requested that the recreation room – the affected area – be closed and a contractor hired to identify the dangers, that apparently did not happen immediately.
In addition, as the indictment stated, once the problem began to be addressed, firefighters were in the building when repairs were finally being made.
This isn’t an unusual scenario. Aging firehouses and police stations throughout the U.S. are plagued with toxic asbestos and, often, public officials are unknowingly exposed to the material.
The matter is made worse when the presence of the toxin is known by some – like Ammons and Walton – but not disclosed. That sort of disregard for the health of others is inexcusable.
In Marion, firefighters will simply need to “wait and see” if they’ve been affected by the presence of asbestos. Though they are requesting annual medical testing, it will likely be decades before they know if inhaled fibers will cause them to develop a disease such as mesothelioma.