AG Van Hollen: Handeland Flooring Inc. agrees to pay penalties for improper asbestos removal violations

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Bill Cosh 608/266-1221

THIENSVILLE – Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today announced that his office has resolved a civil case it has brought against Handeland Flooring, Inc., a Thiensville, Wisconsin, company which engaged in the business of laying, replacing and refinishing floors. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) asked the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) to prosecute Handeland Flooring for its violations of air pollution control laws regulating the handling of asbestos-containing materials.

The case involves a renovation project at the First United Methodist Church of West Allis during the summer of 2007. First United Methodist contracted with Handeland to remove old asbestos-containing flooring and to install new flooring in a small dining room and an adjacent hallway in the lower level of its church at 7520 West Lapham Street in West Allis. The civil complaint filed in the case charges that Handeland began work on August 9, 2007, by removing old 9×9-inch asbestos-containing tiles and then sanding the underlying asbestos-containing adhesive mastic on the floor. According to the complaint, Handeland:

* Failed to inspect the premises for asbestos prior to commencing work on the project. State law requires anyone renovating a building to thoroughly inspect for the presence of asbestos prior to the commencement of work.

* Failed to provide any prior notice to DNR of its intention to renovate before it began stripping and removing the asbestos-containing material. State law requires renovators to provide written notice to the DNR no later than ten working days prior to commencing work that may disturb certain amounts of regulated asbestos-containing material.

* Failed to wet all regulated asbestos-containing material that it had removed from the basement of the church and to keep it wet until the material was collected for proper disposal. State law requires renovators to wet such material before stripping it from a building and then keep it wet until it is collected and contained for disposal. Complying with these regulations minimizes the emissions of asbestos fibers into the air.

* Failed to have properly trained individuals on the job site. State law requires renovators to have at least one on-site representative who has been properly trained in the control of asbestos emissions when asbestos-containing material is being stripped, removed, handled or disturbed.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, approved by Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Witkowiak, Handeland Flooring has agreed to pay penalties totaling $20,000. “The excessive emission of air pollution can threaten the quality of the air we breathe and public health,” Van Hollen said. “That is particularly true with respect to a potentially dangerous pollutant like asbestos, because exposure to airborne asbestos fibers is believed to increase the risk of serious lung diseases.”

Here, the church employed other contractors to clean up the dust and debris from Handeland’s renovation work and in the process confirmed that asbestos-containing dust had not reached the building’s main floor. Van Hollen added that “the Wisconsin Department of Justice will continue to work with the Department of Natural Resources to ensure that such laws are followed.”

Assistant Attorney General Thomas L. Dosch represented the state.