After Failing to Properly Remove Asbestos, Two Developers Face Prison Time

07/16/2010 // Chicago, IL, USA // Cooney & Conway // Mesothelioma attorneys: Cooney & Conway

Mesothelioma News

A criminal case in Missouri is shaping up as Exhibit A for why, even now—decades since the health risks of asbestos exposure have been scientifically proven—lives are still being endangered by the hazardous material, despite the best efforts of regulators, medical researchers, and mesothelioma lawyers.

On June 29, a federal grand jury in Kansas City charged two developers—William M. Threatt, Jr., 69, and Anthony Crompton, 40—with improperly removing and disposing of asbestos-containing materials. Each man was charged with two violations of the federal Clean Air Act, carrying a potential penalty of up to seven years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

Asbestos—long a popular building material because of its heat- and fire-resistant properties—is the leading cause of mesothelioma, a nearly always fatal cancer of the protective lining that covers many of the body’s internal organs, including the lungs and heart.

Mesothelioma can take years—even decades—to develop, and its diagnosis is invariably grim. While medical researchers have seen little progress in battling the deadly asbestos-related disease, mesothelioma lawyers have had greater success, often obtaining multimillion-dollar settlements and jury verdicts for those whose lives and families have been devastated by asbestos exposure.

For years, the hope has been that these big wins would deliver a message: that dangerous asbestos use, handling, and removal will not be tolerated.

Regulators, too, have attempted to prevent asbestos-related disease by enacting strict rules requiring proper asbestos inspection and disposal, primarily in renovation and demolition work, which can easily dislodge the hazardous material and release easily inhaled asbestos fibers into the air. Laws also require that those working with or near asbestos be properly equipped with protective garments and gear.

But the measures required by asbestos regulations can be expensive and time-consuming, and in too many cases, developers have looked to shave costs and delays by skirting—or by outright ignoring—the rules.

Officials in Missouri charge that this is exactly what happened in the Kansas City case.

Threatt, the former president of the Community Development Corp. of Kansas City, and Compton, a real estate director at the firm, were involved in an $85 million project to help turn a blighted neighborhood around by redeveloping a quarter of a million-square-foot property into a modern retail complex.

But instead of revitalizing the neighborhood, the project, called Citadel Plaza, has put residents at risk for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases like lung cancer and asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs that can cause severe shortness of breath and other respiratory problems.

In its charges against the developers, the grand jury alleged that between April 2001 and July of 2006, Threatt and Crompton neglected to perform proper inspections for asbestos within buildings that were scheduled for demolition. They failed, too, according to court documents, to properly dispose of the cancer-causing material.

In 2006, an investigation by the Kansas City Star discovered that a significant number of homes had been razed without proper asbestos permits. Debris from the demolitions was littered in piles across the neighborhood and in adjacent woods. At the time, Threatt told the newspaper “he never knew that federal, state, and local laws required asbestos inspections.” A contractor then hired by Threatt to evaluate the situation said his crews found the site “absolutely shocking.”

A settlement reached in 2007 between the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Community Development Corp. of Kansas City called for Threatt’s organization to proffer $450,000 in penalties and asbestos removal costs. But the developer made just “two installment payments on the penalties and did minimal remediation work,” according to Judd Slivka, a spokesperson for the Natural Resources Department.

More troubling: the asbestos—and the risk for mesothelioma and other deadly diseases—remained. In fact, when municipal crews attempted to mow overgrown weeds on the site, the air was so thick with asbestos fibers that the workers required respirators for protection.

While efforts to complete the project have halted, prosecutors are confident the criminal case will not suffer a similar fate—and that a penalty that goes beyond the checkbook will spur other developers to do the right thing when it comes to proper asbestos inspection, handling, and removal.

This news story was brought to you by the mesothelioma lawyers at Cooney & Conway. For more than half a century, we’ve brought relief—and recovery—for those injured by the negligence or harmful actions of others. In the process, we’ve litigated some of the country’s most significant asbestos lawsuits, helping victims of mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases get answers—and justice.

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