A salvage company owner in Owensboro, Kentucky was put in jail in December 2016 for allowing the demolition of a tire plant without protecting workers from asbestos exposure.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Kentucky launched a lawsuit against S&S Salvage LLC after employees were determined to be demolishing a Goodyear tire plant without having breathing apparatuses to protect them from breathing in asbestos fibers. Also, insulation materials that were thought to contain asbestos were not wetted down, which is a violation of the Clean Air Act.

The owner, Timothy J. Smith, pled guilty to a violation of the Clean Air Act and was put in jail for 90 days, and also was given two years of probation.

Court documents stated that a local safety inspector noted that there was a crew working at S&S Salvage that was tearing down the tire plant in Madisonville, KY. The work was being done in violation of a law that states that there must be 10 days’ notice given to the county before demolishing any structure that may contain asbestos.

The owner also had been cited for failing to provide notice before starting two other demolition projects. Those enforcements were handled by the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection.

Regarding the above violation, the inspector came back a month later and found the work on the tire plant was still ongoing. Boilers were being taken apart and insulation with asbestos was being taken out and thrown in dumpsters. The insulation was never wetted as required by the Clean Air Act. Salvage workers also were not wearing any breathing apparatus to provide protection from deadly asbestos fibers.

Representatives at the scene took samples of the materials thought to contain asbestos. The samples tested positive for asbestos from 10-20%.

According to US Attorney John Kuhn, the federal safety guidelines for hazardous materials exist to protect workers and the public. He added that his hope is that spending 90 days in jail will encourage the salvage company owner and others to think about violating asbestos safety regulations.

Asbestos Use History

It is unfortunate that the owner of the salvage company chose to expose his workers to asbestos. It has been known for many decades that asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma and other deadly asbestos related diseases.

But unfortunately, countless workers were exposed to asbestos for hundreds of years. It has been known as far back as the Roman Empire that asbestos was an extremely useful mineral to protect from and absorb heat.

Also, the very first mines for asbestos were established in the Greek isles. It is believed that Greeks were weaving asbestos into the clothes of slaves. Experts also think that asbestos was even used in the clothes of kings and queens. It also was likely used in tablecloths and napkins, and may have been used in buildings in ancient times.

Asbestos was used in many industries in ancient times and also in the Industrial Revolution in the West.

As the Industrial Revolution took hold and Western countries grew more prosperous, more asbestos was mined to meet the strong demand. The first commercial asbestos mines were opened in 1880 in Quebec. Mines also were opened in Russia and Australia. However, by 1900, doctors were reporting extensive cases of ‘lung sickness’ and pulmonary fibrosis in workers who were working in asbestos mines and textile factories.

Still, the mineral was used tremendously and was found in factories, shipyards, railroad yards and cars, chemical plants and oil refineries. It also was used heavily to provide insulation for pipes and boilers. Refinery ovens and tanks were heavily coated in asbestos. All of this use led to many workers coming down with fatal lung diseases, although many were not developing symptoms until years after they stopped working.

In the 20th century, asbestos was used in brake systems in cars, in roof shingles, skyscrapers, cement, plaster, siding and more. By the 1950s, many companies that used asbestos knew that the material could be deadly. It has been shown in many asbestos lawsuits that companies had documents in their possession that proved they knew of the dangers. They often did nothing to protect company profits.

Today, many are surprised to learn that asbestos still is mined. The chrysotile form is most commonly mined and transported around the world. Approximately 40 countries around the world have banned asbestos, with Canada being the most recent.

There are still companies that are trying to use asbestos and to remove it from buildings without taking safety precautions. In addition to the story we highlighted on this page, other violations have occurred recently.

In 2015, five managers and operators were sentenced from six months to five years in prison. This was for engaging in a criminal conspiracy to expose their workers to asbestos, which is a violation of the Clean Air Act. They were fined more than $10 million. Their company was contracted to remove asbestos from Liberty Fibers Plant in Tennessee but failed to give their workers proper safety equipment.

If you have worked for a company that you think has exposed you to asbestos, you should talk to a personal injury attorney who is experienced in asbestos and mesothelioma cases. There are strict rules in place at the state and federal level about safety requirements for working with asbestos-containing materials. Anyone who has to work with asbestos in any way must be provided with the necessary protective gear to prevent asbestos exposure.