Chattanooga, TN - On Monday, a federal judge formally sentenced three Chattanooga men for violating the Clean Air Act and conspiracy in connection to a demolition project that polluted the area with a toxic substance known as asbestos.
Facing federal prison time, the three men convicted – Don Fillers, David Wood and James Mathis – may file an appeal to the verdict. Fillers faces four years in prison, where Wood and Mathis face 20 months and 18 months, respectively. Further, Fillers will have to personally pay a $20,000 fine and his company, Watkins Street Project, faces an additional $28,000.
The charges surrounding the men stem from a demolition project spanning nearly 18 months starting in August 2004. Fillers and his company were hired to demolish the Standard-Coosa-Thatcher plant, a former textile mile. During the course of the demolition project, asbestos dust was released into the air, contaminating not only the worksite but area homes and a local day care center.
Asbestos, a known carcinogen, was commonly used in building material. Now a banned building material, removing asbestos from existing structures is a highly regulated business. Properly executed by asbestos abatement professionals, the toxin is safely removed without causing any harm. Asbestos, if released, is extremely toxic and can lead to several deadly cancers including lung cancer and mesothelioma cancer.
According to recent findings by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is not a “safe” level of asbestos permitted into the air. Even a scant amount of the toxic dust is considered dangerous and jeopardizes air quality.
The EPA found Fillers, Wood and Mathis had “hired homeless and untrained workers to perform illegal asbestos removal” at the former textile mill site. According to prosecutors on the case, hiring “untrained” asbestos abatement workers was a financial decision. Simply, it was cheaper to hire workers unfamiliar with asbestos abatement protocols in order to work on the site. These actions lead not only to the release of the deadly toxin into the air, but the federal investigation into the matter.
Defense attorneys argued that the men did not intentionally violate the Clean Air Act. Further, the defense attorneys alleged that if there was more oversight by local officials, this environmental disaster would not have occurred.
The three men are expected to begin their sentence on November 16.