A Milwaukee real estate company will pay $75,000 for running afoul of asbestos regulations while demolishing a former factory building in Iowa.
In early April, Iowa’s Attorney General’s office sued the real estate firm Phoenix Investors and contractor JB2 Services —both of Milwaukee — for failing to follow the state’s rules when removing asbestos from a building that had once provided power for a Maytag appliance factory.
On Friday, Phoenix agreed to a consent order that carries the fine. A lawsuit against JB2 is ongoing. Iowa’s Attorney General sued the companies on behalf of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
Neither Phoenix nor JB2 responded to messages seeking comment by press time Tuesday.
In 2018, Phoenix hired JB2 to remove asbestos from a building that it owns and that was once the former boiler building for the Maytag factory.
The project ran into troubles before it even began, according to court documents. The two companies failed to meet requirement calling for an inspection of the property before asbestos removal began. In fact an inspection of the building hadn’t been conducted in eight years.
JB2 also told the DNR that it planned to begin work in January 2018 and wrap up that March. The company didn’t begin work until May.
According to the complaint, Iowa DNR officials got an anonymous tip in May 2018 from someone who had left the job site out of fear of being exposed to asbestos. The person told authorities “nothing was being done correctly” at the site.
A day after receiving the tip, Iowa DNR officials started their investigation. They found smashed windows that could have let asbestos outside the job site. JB2 also brought an open dumpster into the building through a garage door to load up bags of asbestos — another step that could have spread asbestos off-site. Crews also hadn’t the common containment measure of setting up enough negative-pressure machines in the building.
DNR officials found the job site had no water hookup, either to wet asbestos to prevent its spread, or to provide water for a shower for people leaving the building. Inside, officials found trash bags filled with asbestos that had been left dry rather than doused to help with containment.
When DNR and OSHA officials met at the site the day after the initial inspection, they learned that crews had been working there for weeks and had already removed about half of the asbestos in the old boiler building. JB2’s project manager also told state officials that he had little experience with asbestos and had never removed the material from a boiler.
At a nearby landfill, investigators found improperly labeled bags of dry asbestos. The bags had broken open and the asbestos had been spread aroun d.
Authorities required the contractors to follow an updated plan for removing asbestos and continued to track the project through that summer.
Phoenix terminated its contract with JB2 in November 2018, although the company stopped working on the Maytag project in September of that year, according to the lawsuit. Phoenix hired Des Moines, Iowa-based Controlled Asbestos to finish the project.
JB2 could face a civil penalty of up to $10,000 a day for each violation of the state’s asbestos rules.