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April 20, 2020

State sues two Milwaukee companies over asbestos violations at former Maytag site

Owner of boiler building agrees to pay $75,000 penalty 

Update: A judge has approved Attorney General Tom Miller’s request for a civil penalty against the owner of​ JB2 Services, a Milwaukee-based company​, for his role in ​overseeing​ asbestos removal violations that occurred at the former Maytag Boiler Building in Newton in 2018. 

District Judge Martha Mertz entered the consent decree against JB2 Services owner Robert Peret on Tuesday, requiring he pay a $10,000 civil penalty. Peret admitted to the violations and agreed to the settlement earlier this year and began paying the penalty. He died Oct. 31. 

In May 2020, District Judge Thomas Murphy entered a default judgment against JB2 Services ​for the 2018 asbestos removal violations, requiring the company pay $150,000 in civil penalties and refrain from future asbestos violations.  Since then, the judgment was moved to Wisconsin in an attempt to collect the penalty.

DES MOINES ― A Milwaukee real estate company has agreed to pay $75,000 to the state of Iowa and admitted it violated asbestos regulations at a former Maytag building in Newton.    

Phoenix Investors, LLC, agreed to a consent order approved April 17 by Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Martha L. Mertz. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, sued Phoenix as well as JBS Services, a Milwaukee-based contractor hired by Phoenix to abate the asbestos in the building. The lawsuit against JBS remains active. 

Phoenix owns the former Maytag boiler building located at 927 North 19th Ave. East in Newton and plans to demolish the building, which was used to power the former Maytag appliance factory. Before doing so, Phoenix must complete an asbestos survey and have an Iowa-licensed asbestos inspector present during demolition.  

The state alleged that Phoenix and JB2 committed multiple violations of asbestos regulations, including failing to thoroughly inspect for asbestos before renovation, failing to submit the required notifications before removing asbestos, and failing to use proper methods to remove, collect and dispose of asbestos-containing material.  

Phoenix admitted to many of the violations for purposes of the settlement. 

According to the lawsuits:  

JB2 began removing asbestos in the building in May 2018. The DNR received an anonymous complaint on May 23 that “nothing was being done correctly at this location.”  

DNR inspectors visited the building the next day and found “gross contamination in large parts of the building,” including a significant amount of dry, suspected asbestos-containing materials in torn, smashed bags and outside of containment. They also found power tools used to remove dry asbestos-containing materials. About half of the 9,600 total square feet of boiler insulation had been removed. 

Inspectors also found numerous broken windows, allowing for possible transmission off the site.  The DNR noted that there had been high wind conditions in the weeks before the inspection.  

The boiler building sits less than 50 yards from the Arcosa wind tower plant, where some employees work outside, and near other occupied buildings.  

The DNR also discovered that no water was hooked up to the building to allow workers to wet the asbestos-containing material or allow workers to shower before leaving. JB2 admitted to the DNR that it had not connected the water and that workers had been on site for several weeks. 

The DNR inspectors also visited the Newton Landfill and learned that bags of dry, suspected asbestos-containing materials had been broken open and their contents were scattered on the ground near a road that enters and exits the landfill.  

The DNR issued a notice of violation to the companies in June 2018 and did several follow-up inspections as the abatement was completed.  

Separately, Iowa OSHA identified at least 13 serious violations of OSHA standards, almost all of which dealt with asbestos, and JB2 later paid a $20,267 penalty to OSHA. 

JB2, which worked on the site until November 2018, faces a civil penalty of up to $10,000 a day for each alleged violation. 

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