Oklahoma City Officials Convicted of Environmental Crimes

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma, August 21, 2007 (ENS) - A federal jury Monday found two Oklahoma City officials guilty of negligently allowing the release of asbestos, a hazardous air pollutant.

The evidence presented at trial showed that the City Manager of Elk City, Oklahoma, Guy R. Hylton, Jr. and a building superintendent, Chick Arthur Little, used inmates from the Elk City Work Center to remove asbestos from an old railroad depot in 2003.

The inmates were not provided with protective clothing and other protective measures, as required by law.

By their actions, the jury decided, city officials negligently caused the release of asbestos into the air and risked the health of the inmates.

The case was jointly investigated and prosecuted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office, and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

"Public officials used prisoners to remove cancer-causing asbestos without protective equipment," said Granta Nakayama, EPA assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "All people deserve protection from exposure to environmental hazards, no matter their station in life."

"These senior city officials held a sacred public trust to ensure that the laws established to protect the people they serve were followed," said John Richter, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma. "Instead, as the jury found, they neglected their duty when they allowed the public to be exposed to danger by the release of hazardous asbestos and took advantage of inmate labor by sending them to work in the Depot without protection."

The city purchased the Elk City Railroad Depot in May of 2002 for renovation and use by the city. The Depot was built in the early 1900s and contained asbestos insulation.

Additionally, the jury found that Little lied to investigating agents when he falsely stated that the waste from the Depot had been properly disposed in a permitted landfill.

A sentencing hearing will be held in approximately 90 days. Hylton faces up to one year in prison plus a fine of up to $100,000. Little faces up to five years in prison plus a fine of up to $250,000.

Asbestos, which is commonly used in thermal insulation and other building materials, is a carcinogen and exposure can result in serious or fatal respiratory diseases, including lung cancer.

When asbestos containing materials become damaged or disturbed, the fibers separate and may become airborne and inhaled into the lungs. The EPA requires keeping building materials that may contain asbestos wet in order to prevent the fibers from becoming airborne.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.