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A partner named Joseph Chernis IV helped with the demolition of the former Pillsbury Mills plant and now faces federal indictment for improper asbestos removal and for making false statements in a state court case. The 18-acre site is located at 1525 E. Phillips St. It’s been vacant since former owner, Cargill Corporation, closed the plant in 2001.
According to an announcement made on Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Springfield, Chernis will be arraigned on June 7 for four violations of the federal Clean Air Act and two counts of making false statements. The case could result in a maximum of five years in jail, three years of supervised released, and $250,000 in fines.
Springfield has a lengthy history of manufacturing and commercial construction, which has made asbestos exposure, and the risk of mesothelioma cancer, an ongoing concern. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma cancer.
According to the indictment announcement, “The asbestos debris was stuffed into approximately 300 garbage bags and at least two open-topped cardboard boxes, and left inside buildings at the facility.”
Chernis has been accused of employing an improperly and untrained individual to remove over 1,000 feet of asbestos-ridden pipe insulation from October 2014 to August 2015 in four buildings.
Regarding the two counts of false statements, during an October 2015 hearing in Sangamon County Circuit Court, Chernis falsely claimed he did not know who removed the asbestos and that someone else was responsible for hiring the untrained individual. This was a separate lawsuit filed by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
In fact, this lawsuit stopped the plant’s demolition at the request of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and asked for an asbestos cleanup in accordance to regulations.
“We knew people were being questioned,” said Chernis’ father, Joseph Chernis III, who claims he did not know about the indictment. “We’re working diligently with the EPA to remedy the situation.”
The father and son own Midwest Demolition Company of Springfield and have represented themselves in recent circuit court hearings. They’re currently exploring options for an asbestos cleanup plan that’s in accordance with Illinois’ regulations.
The state of Illinois’ lawsuit against Chernis says the improper asbestos removal resulted in asbestos exposure and therefore a health danger to workers and nearby residents. As of right now, according to the EPA, the site has been properly secured and there’s no longer a threat to the public’s health.