Small manufacturing industries and power plants make up the greatest portion of Nebraska’s exposure threats. Workers whose responsibilities included repairing or operating high-heat machinery may have inhaled the fibers, which were used as insulation at these factories.
One workplace where workers were exposed was Nebraska’s former W.R. Grace vermiculite plant, where contaminated vermiculite ore was processed for use in insulation, construction and gardening materials.
An extensive asbestos problem also has been documented at the Omaha Police Department headquarters. In August 2021, the department’s chief ordered the creation of a new asbestos contingency plan, because the plan created in 2012 cannot be found. In 2011, a study of the building found asbestos in four of the structure’s six floors.
Nebraska’s Occupations at Risk
Vermiculite processors at W.R. Grace’s Western Mineral Products facility in Omaha, Nebraska, faced one of the highest exposure risks in the state. At this plant, workers unloaded, heated, bagged and swept asbestos and asbestos waste, leading to potential exposure when the fibers were scattered into 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 been required to operate asbestos-insulated machinery at the following plants: Blue Hill City Light and Water, Whelan Energy Center and Madison Utilities.
Treatment Centers near Nebraska
Doctors in Nebraska
Job Sites at Risk
Part of Nebraska’s power generating network, Sheldon Station and its Mark T. Moor Substation are coal-based power plants where asbestos was used. 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, founded in the 1940s in Omaha, Nebraska, 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. Many homes and offices were ruined by the floodwaters, and contaminated home construction materials may have been exposed during the disaster. 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, but 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 all asbestos-related projects to be reported to the DHHS before they begin. The department outlines training and licensing requirements for asbestos work, as well as 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 asbestos materials have been removed, the DHHS also requires taking air samples to ensure that no airborne fibers are present.
Penalties for Asbestos Offenses
Failure to meet the state and federal requirements for asbestos work can result in hefty fines and imprisonment for repeat offenders. The cost of these fines is determined in a civil action brought before the attorney general in the county where the violation occurred.
The DHHS can fine businesses or individuals that engage in an asbestos project without a valid license between $5,000 and $25,000 for the first offense, and $25,000 to $100,000 for each subsequent offense. It also can issue civil penalties between $1,000 and $25,000 to businesses that violate the Asbestos Control Act.
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.
Asbestos Lawsuits in Nebraska
In a 2007 case filed in the Supreme Court of Nebraska, a widow claimed her husband’s death from pleural mesothelioma was caused by workplace exposures to asbestos. The plaintiff’s husband, Joe Olivotto, worked for DeMarco Brothers Company from 1954 to 1980, where he completed construction and remodeling projects at various job sites across the Midwest.
Asbestos materials were present in many of these job sites, including a post office and numerous schools and hospitals. The trial court decided there was sufficient evidence that Olivotto’s cancer resulted from on-the-job exposures to asbestos, and ordered DeMarco to reimburse his wife for treatment expenses. She was awarded more than $113,000 to cover the cost of treatment, travel and lodging.
In 2012, five former railroad workers and the widow of a sixth filed a lawsuit against BNSF Railway, the second-largest freight railroad network in North America. The claims alleged the railway’s operations in Lincoln negligently exposed workers to asbestos.
The lawsuits state four of the claimants were exposed to asbestos while working as passenger and freight carmen in Omaha and in Lincoln shops, while the remaining two served as a boilermaker and a blacksmith. One claimant died of asbestos-related colon cancer in 2010, and the others developed asbestos-related lung disease. Details on the resolution of these lawsuits are scarce. A July 2012 Lincoln Journal Star news article reports BNSF was reviewing the cases and would respond through the legal process.