Small manufacturing industries and power plants make up the greatest part of Nebraska’s exposure threats. Workers who repaired or operated high-heat machinery may have inhaled the fibers. These factories used asbestos insulation and other products.
One workplace where workers were exposed was Nebraska’s former W.R. Grace vermiculite plant. It processed contaminated vermiculite for use in insulation, construction and gardening materials.
The Omaha Police Department headquarters has asbestos issues as well. In August 2021, the department’s chief ordered the creation of a new asbestos contingency plan, because the plan created in 2012 is lost. In 2011, a study of the building found asbestos in four of the structure’s six floors.
Exposure to asbestos may cause mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis. Treatment is available in Nebraska and surrounding states.
Nebraska’s Occupations at Risk
Vermiculite processors faced one of the highest exposure risks in the state. W.R. Grace’s Western Mineral Products facility was in Omaha, Nebraska. At this plant, workers unloaded, bagged and swept asbestos and asbestos waste. This led to exposure when the fibers entered the air.
Power plant workers also came into contact with asbestos at their worksites. Employees of Nebraska power plants may have loosened the fibers from pipes, gaskets, boilers or other equipment. Workers may have operated asbestos-insulated machinery at certain plants. These include Blue Hill City Light and Water, Whelan Energy Center and Madison Utilities.
Job Sites at Risk
Nebraska’s power-generating network includes Sheldon Station and its Mark T. Moor Substation. These coal-based power plants used asbestos. Currently, the boilers at Sheldon Station can generate up to 225 megawatts of electricity. These boilers, as with many other boilers used in factories before the 1980s, were likely insulated with asbestos.
Western Mineral Products was founded in the 1940s in Omaha, Nebraska. It was a manufacturer of insulation and concrete aggregate. Its products were primarily made with contaminated vermiculite from Libby, Montana.
From 1967 until its closing in 1989, the facility processed more than 165,000 tons of Libby vermiculite. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry evaluated the area and stated that there is now little or no risk of asbestos exposure from the site. However, past employees of Western Mineral Products were exposed while working.
In 2011, the Missouri river flooded, swamping areas of Nebraska such as Omaha and Council Bluffs. The floodwaters ruined many homes and offices. And it damaged asbestos construction materials.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services directs property owners to properly dispose of all asbestos-contaminated flood debris at a designated landfill.
Due to excessive flood damage, homeowners may consider demolishing unsalvageable buildings. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHHS) requires an asbestos inspection before any renovations are performed. Buildings that the flood made structurally unstable may be demolished without an inspection, but appropriate permits and notifications must be completed.
Asbestos Regulations in Nebraska
In addition to federal regulation on asbestos removal and disposal, Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has enacted some state-specific regulations. These laws apply to almost every business or individual involved in an asbestos project in the state of Nebraska.
State regulations require reporting of all asbestos-related projects to the DHHS. The department outlines training and licensing requirements for asbestos work. It includes the proper safety practices for inspection, removal, encapsulation and demolition projects.
These rules require workers to seal asbestos materials, wear protective gear and minimize debris. After removal, the DHHS requires taking air samples to ensure that no airborne fibers are present.
Penalties for Asbestos Offenses
Failure to meet the state and federal requirements can result in hefty fines and imprisonment for repeat offenders. The cost of these fines gets determined in a civil action in the county where the violation occurred.
The DHHS can fine businesses or individuals that engage in an asbestos project without a valid license. Fines are between $5,000 and $25,000 for the first offense and $25,000 to $100,000 for each later offense.
A repeat offender already cited for a civil penalty is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. For each subsequent offense, the offender will be guilty of a Class IV felony, which can result in a maximum of five years imprisonment, a $10,000 fine or both.
In 2013, a Falls City, Nebraska, company planning to demolish a building and construct a new motel was fined $25,000 for illegally disposing of asbestos. After paying an asbestos abatement firm to remove roofing materials from the building slated for demolition, Vision 20-20 Inc. illegally removed asbestos floor tiles to avoid paying for the $14,000 job.
Prosecutors said the company violated the federal Clean Water Act by failing to obtain a permit for asbestos disposal and later dumping the toxic materials into a ditch that led to the Missouri River and Big Nemaha River. A Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson assured residents the site was cleaned properly and posed no danger of asbestos exposure.