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November 9, 2021

Judge orders $40,000 penalty against company for asbestos removal violations

The order resolves lawsuit stemming from renovation project at Cedar Rapids Washington High School  

DES MOINES — A Linn County judge has approved Attorney General Tom Miller’s request for a civil penalty and injunction against Abatement Specialties to resolve a 2019 lawsuit related to asbestos-removal violations during the renovations of Cedar Rapids Washington High School in 2014 and 2015.  

District Judge Sean McPartland entered the consent decree against Abatement Specialties on Monday, requiring the Cedar Rapids company pay the $40,000 civil penalty and refrain from future asbestos violations. The company admitted to the violations for purposes of the settlement.  

“Clean Air Act regulations, including rules over the removal and abatement of asbestos, protect Iowans and our environment,” said Attorney General Tom Miller. “We cannot allow companies to willfully put Iowans, and in this case our students, at risk by skirting or ignoring these important measures. This agreement sends a clear message that companies who don’t do the work to ensure asbestos abatement before renovation projects will be held accountable for their actions.”  

The State of Iowa filed a lawsuit against Abatement Specialties in July 2019, alleging the company failed to thoroughly inspect for and remove asbestos before renovation, failed to adequately wet the material, and failed to carefully lower it to the ground during removal. 

Abatement Specialties faced a civil penalty of up to $10,000 a day for each violation. 

According to the petition, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources received an anonymous telephone complaint in June 2015 stating that Abatement Specialties left asbestos debris throughout the school. 

A DNR environmental specialist, Tom Wuehr, visited the school in June and July of 2015 and found several concerns. His investigation revealed both asbestos debris and airborne particles outside containment areas in the school while teachers, staff, students and construction workers were present, according to the lawsuit. 

Upon Wuehr’s recommendation, the district closed Washington during the abatement and removed Abatement Specialties from the project. The DNR sent violation letters to the company and school district in July 2015. The matter was referred to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office in 2016. 

In August 2017, the Cedar Rapids Community School District reached a consent decree with the state over the violations. As part of the settlement, the district produced a series of videos to inform and educate Iowa school officials on proper asbestos identification, mitigation and removal. 

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