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Illinois man gets three years for illegal asbestos removal

A mill owner who improperly removed asbestos, endangering workers and nearby residents, was sentenced to three years in prison on February 12, 2018.

The owner, Joseph J. Chernis IV, was indicted on federal charges in 2016 for violating the federal Clean Air Act. He had previously hired untrained workers to remove the asbestos from the former Pillsbury Mill plant in Springfield, Illinois. Inspectors found asbestos stored in open-air plastic containers, among other violations.

While Mr. Chernis agreed to a plea deal in 2017, the presiding judge, Sue Myerscough, said she was not certain she was going to follow the sentencing recommendations outlined in the agreement, according to The State Journal-Register. She cited ongoing concerns for the community due to Chernis’ lack of regard for the health and safety of workers and nearby residents. Ultimately, however, she agreed to the three years recommended by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, one year for each charge Mr. Chernis pled guilty to.

The Pillsbury Mill stopped producing flour in 2001. In 2007, it was purchased for salvage. Since then, it has undergone several salvage operations.

Neighborhood residents worried

The former Pillsbury Mills plant is now clean. The Environmental Protection Agency finished the removal of asbestos in November of 2017. The project took six months and cost $1.8 million. Still, many residents are rightly worried. There is a playground near the site of the mill. It is located in a residential neighborhood, and school buses still have stops nearby. Because of the lax manner of its original removal and storage, it is possible that nearby grounds and air were contaminated with asbestos dust.

Asbestos dust, when inhaled, causes mesothelioma and lung cancer. Those exposed must wait decades in fear, as mesothelioma usually develops 20-50 years after first exposure.

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