City officials used prisoners to remove asbestos without proper protection
(Washington, D.C.) Monday a federal jury found two Oklahoma City officials guilty of negligently allowing the release of asbestos, a hazardous air pollutant, in a case jointly investigated and prosecuted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice and the State of Oklahoma.
The evidence presented at trial showed that the City Manager of Elk City, Okla., Guy R. Hylton, Jr. and a building superintendent, Chick Arthur Little, used inmates from the Elk City Work Center to remove asbestos from an old railroad depot in 2003. The inmates were not provided with protective clothing and other protective measures, as required by law. By doing so, city officials negligently caused the release of asbestos into the air and risked the health of the inmates.
"Public officials used prisoners to remove cancer-causing asbestos without protective equipment," said Granta Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "All people deserve protection from exposure to environmental hazards."
"These senior city officials held a sacred public trust to ensure that the laws established to protect the people they serve were followed," said John C. Richter, United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma. "Instead, as the jury found, they neglected their duty when they allowed the public to be exposed to danger by the release of hazardous asbestos and took advantage of inmate labor by sending them to work in the Depot without protection. Cases like this one are central to the Department of Justice's efforts to vigorously enforce our environmental laws that are designed to protect each and every citizen, no matter their station in life."
The city purchased the Elk City Railroad Depot in May of 2002 for renovation and use by the city. The Depot was built in the early 1900's and contained asbestos insulation.
Additionally the jury found that Little lied to investigating agents when he falsely stated that the waste from the Depot had been properly disposed in a permitted landfill. The jury found both defendants not guilty of illegally disposing of hazardous asbestos. The jury also found Hylton not guilty of lying to investigators about the disposal of asbestos.
A sentencing hearing will be held in approximately 90 days.
Hylton faces up to one year in prison plus a fine of up to $100,000. Little faces up to five years in prison plus a fine of up to $250,000. Hylton and Little were originally indicted by a federal grand jury on Dec. 19, 2006.
Asbestos, which is commonly used in thermal insulation and other building materials, is a carcinogen and exposure can result in serious or fatal respiratory diseases, including lung cancer. When asbestos containing materials become damaged or disturbed, the fibers separate and may become airborne and inhaled into the lungs. The EPA requires keeping building materials that may contain asbestos wet in order to prevent the fibers from becoming airborne.
The case is the result of a joint investigation conducted by the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division, the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office, and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Randy Sengel and Nick Lillard.