The Marion, South Carolina, city administrator and its fire chief have been indicted on charges of knowingly exposing staff, volunteer workers and community members to toxic asbestos.
Both were granted a personal recognizance bond at their arraignment Nov. 17 in the Marion County Courthouse.
City Administrator Alan Thomas Ammons and Fire Chief Ralph Walton Cooper III were charged with misconduct in office, conspiracy to violate the Pollution Control Act, and violation of the Pollution Control Act.
All three indictments — signed by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson — were filed Nov. 2, 2017.
The alleged violations were between Feb. 1 and May 1 of 2017 at the Marion Fire Station. The indictments contend Cooper and Ammons allowed continued use of the facility during that period, despite knowing asbestos was present.
The indictments stem from an inspection by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) in October 2016 that discovered exposed asbestos.
Hurricane Cleanup Exposes Asbestos in Floor
The asbestos was found in floor tiles that were being replaced as part of cleanup efforts following Hurricane Matthew, which hit the area Oct. 6, 2016.
Officials from the DHEC, after their inspection, had requested the recreation room at the fire station and adjacent rooms be closed until asbestos abatement could be completed.
Ammons and Cooper are being blamed for allowing the rooms to remain open.
Ammons, near the end of May, told WPDE the city had spent $30,000 to remove the asbestos.
DHEC officials said the cleanup of the fire station was completed on May 17, with all regulations followed.
The unknowing inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to a number of serious respiratory health issues, including asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that once was used extensively in construction of both residential and commercial buildings.
Older Buildings Filled with Asbestos
Although the use of asbestos has been reduced significantly in recent decades, most structures built before 1980 contain asbestos products, which typically are not dangerous unless disturbed.
“The city of Marion is aware of the indictments against two of its employees,” Marion Mayor Ashley Brady said in a statement. “We are monitoring the situation and in the process of determining what action, if any, needs to be taken.”
Marion, which is the county seat, is a city with a population of an estimated 6,700.
Both Ammons and Cooper attended the regular city council meeting last week, prior to the arraignment.
Ammons, who also serves as the city’s building inspector, gave his monthly report to council.
Neither Ammons nor Cooper would comment to local media regarding the indictments, referring questions to their personal attorneys.
“I have looked into the matter and I’m convinced that the indictments here were ill advised and that my client has participated in no criminal conduct,” attorney Morgan Martin, who represents Cooper, told WMBF News. “And I believe that a thorough review of all the facts surrounding this will establish that.”