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Idaho man gets prison for mishandling asbestos

A judge imposed a six-month prison sentence Aug. 14 on a former construction supervisor convicted of mishandling pipes coated with asbestos during an upgrade of Orofino’s municipal sewer and water system.

Douglas Greiner, 52, of Eagle, pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors earlier this year to a criminal charge of violating the federal Clean Air Act. The law and the regulations designed to enforce it spell out how construction crews must remove, handle and dispose of hazardous materials like the decades-old, cement and asbestos-covered pipe that was dug up by Greiner’s crew four years ago.

Investigators with the Environmental Protection Agency accused Greiner, a former employee of Owyhee Construction Inc., of failing to properly oversee as crews removed and cut up the pipe then illegally disposed of 2,400 tons of soil laced with asbestos shards in 16 separate dump sites around town.

As a result, the EPA stepped in and paid nearly $4 million to clean up the disposal sites.

In U.S. District Court in Boise Aug. 14, Greiner apologized for his actions and said he never intended to cause harm to anyone.

Public defender Christian Collins made a case for leniency, saying no proof exists showing Greiner, a 30-year industry veteran, schemed to shirk federal law or was motivated by criminal or malicious intent. Collins argued the real flaw was the company’s failure to provide proper training while signing contracts that clearly spelled out the likelihood of dealing with asbestos piping.

“I should have been on site more often, paid more attention to what was going on,” said Greiner, who also was ordered to six months of house arrest after his prison release. “This whole thing could have been avoided … if everybody on the project had done their job.”

Judge Edward Lodge acknowledged there was a good argument that Greiner didn’t act intentionally. But he also emphasized the need to send a message that the construction industry that there are consequences for companies and individuals who ignore federal rules for handling hazardous waste.

“This is a serious crime. The message has to go out that in these situations … in any of these asbestos cases, big or small, you have to oversee them. You can’t allow something to happen that will put people in jeopardy,” Lodge said.

Lodge handed out the same sentence Aug. 12 to Bradley Eberhart, who was the OCI crew foreman on the Orofino project who reported to Greiner. Along with the prison sentence, each must serve six months of home confinement followed by six months of supervised release.

EPA officials say their criminal investigation is ongoing and is now focused on OCI executives.

“Such criminal acts endanger workers and the community and can, as demonstrated here, cost the federal government millions of dollars to clean up,” said Robert Dreher, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources.

Officials with the Boise-based construction company did not immediately return a telephone message left by the Associated Press Aug. 14.

On Aug. 12, Lodge ordered Eberhart to pay $3.9 million in restitution, the cost of the government cleanup. Greiner’s attorney challenged efforts to require Greiner to share that financial burden Aug. 14 and Lodge asked attorneys from both sides to file briefs on the issue before making a decision.

About The Associated Press