A prominent, family-run asbestos-disposal company is suing the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for failing to enforce the state’s strict asbestos-waste laws.
Doug Ingraham, corporate secretary at Ingraham Environmental Inc., believes the DEQ has been delinquent in its duty to protect citizens from unnecessary asbestos exposure.
“It’s a simple case of the government maintaining the status quo and the public feeling protected, when actually, the government is failing them,” Ingraham told Asbestos.com.
Ingraham said the DEQ has failed to apply the laws regarding asbestos abatement and disposal, allowing too much unregulated dumping at landfills across the state.
Exposure to asbestos can lead to a number of serious health issues, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
The legal filings by Ingraham are designed to push the DEQ toward tougher enforcement of the current laws. The lawsuit was filed in the district court of Butte-Silver Bow County and assigned to Judge Brad Newman.
“Asbestos waste is regularly being dumped in open air in our landfills, endangering landfill workers, transporters and anyone who breathes air in the area of these dumps,” notes Ingraham’s legal petition.
The DEQ countered with its own petition that says the responsibility for compliance is on the landfill operators and the owners of the buildings being demolished or abated. The agency also says it is not legally required to do more.
The Ingraham family has been in the asbestos abatement business since the 1980s. Its first written request to the DEQ — requesting increased compliance efforts — came in 2006.
Asbestos laws in Montana are stricter than in most states, partially stemming from the long-running environmental disaster in Libby, Montana, the largest asbestos cleanup project in American history.
Health officials estimate more than 400 Libby residents have died and thousands more have been sickened from asbestos-related diseases stemming from 70 years of mining nearby.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has spent almost $600 million cleaning up commercial and residential properties in Libby and surrounding areas. Federal laws regarding asbestos disposal are less restrictive than the state laws Ingraham wants enforced.
“There is a presumption that we are safe from asbestos when we go into restaurants, bars, hotels being renovated,” Ingraham said. “We’ve got these great laws that are regulating the asbestos community, but what’s falling between the cracks is people who aren’t having inspections done, taking material without inspection, and disposing it at the landfill under the assumption that it’s not asbestos.”
The lawsuit also stems from years of frustration on the part of many asbestos-industry members in Montana who have been critical of loopholes being used to avoid inspections and endanger innocent people.
“We’re not asking for new rules,” Ingraham said. “We’re just asking that DEQ assume responsibility for rules already in place.”
Landfills typically charge more for the disposal of asbestos materials. Asbestos abatement also can be costly for small business owners.
“It’s a little flabbergasting, to be honest,” Ingraham said. “My attorney, who has become very educated about asbestos, says if the DEQ doesn’t want to enforce these laws, then who is responsible for doing it?”