Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should begin a criminal investigation into serious asbestos-related violations by Grand Teton National Park managers, according to a formal complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Ignoring warnings from its staff, the park stored dangerous friable asbestos in areas of the park accessible to visitors and then had it illegally shipped in open trucks across state lines for improper disposal.
In August 2001, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the park for subjecting the workers who removed 2500 feet of asbestos-coated water pipe to unsafe and unhealthful conditions such as shoveling the asbestos dust which peeled off the pipes without protective equipment. The PEER complaint focuses on what followed the OSHA citation, charging that park managers –
- Heaped the crumbling asbestos at local sites without any containment or means to protect park visitors from exposure;
- Dumped some loads onto campsite fire grates that were later distributed throughout the park; and
- Loaded much of the materials into uncovered dump trucks that were driven through Jackson Hole, Wyoming on a 300-mile trip to an open dump at Mud Lake, Idaho, where it remains today.
PEER contends that by these actions park officials knowingly violated both the Clean Air Act and the Comprehensive Emergency Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund), federal laws that carry criminal penalties for such violations. Knowing violations can bring fines of up to $250,000 and imprisonment of up to five years under the Clean Air Act and three years under CERCLA. The organization argues that the clear danger to the public and workers, as well as the fact that the asbestos today still poses a hazard due to improper disposal, merits treating these offenses as crimes.
“Grand Teton park managers showed an outrageous disregard for the health of the workers and the public in how they carried out this asbestos removal,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Christine Erickson who filed the complaint. “National Park officials sometimes forget that environmental laws apply to them as well.”
PEER further maintains that the asbestos violations are not isolated incidents of problems at Grand Teton, pointing to a 2008 Interior Department Office of Inspector General audit criticized Grand Teton facilities where park employees are subjected to “poor indoor air quality” from vehicle exhaust vented directly into work spaces. PEER had to sue the Inspector General under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the inspection records underlying this report and is looking at other unsafe and unhealthful work conditions at Grand Teton that have yet to be remedied.
“National parks have obligations that go beyond scenery and wildlife – they also must avoid exposing their employees and visitors to hazardous materials and toxic chemicals,” added Erickson, noting that the nomination of a new Director for the National Park Service is pending in the Senate. “Hopefully, new leadership will bring new accountability.”