Illinois Business Owners Face Federal Lawsuit Over Asbestos

In an all-too-common story, the owner of a building in Bloomington and a developer decided to cut corners on asbestos removal by undertaking a job for which neither had the training or credentials–and now, both of them are looking at paying out as much as ten times what it would have cost to do the job properly in the first place.
Ben Slotky is a developer in Bloomington; his friend, Merle Huff, owns the Front ‘N Center Building. Two years ago, Slotky suggested that Huff turn part of his building into a restaurant. When Huff agreed, Slotky immediately went to work cleaning out that part of the building. Before long, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) received complaints that potentially contaminated materials were being disposed of in unsealed plastic trash bags.

EPA regulations specify that all asbestos waste must be placed in specially labeled bags and sealed with duct tape. IDPH put a stop to the remodeling project and ordered Huff to hire a licensed asbestos contractor. Federal law requires notification of the Attorney General’s office, but in this case, the attorney general did not get involved in the case until six months had passed. By then, work on the project had started again; IDPH inspectors found that asbestos-containing materials discovered during the previous inspection had been disturbed. Neither Slotky nor Huff had anything to say for themselves.

Meanwhile, Judge Lisa Madigan is seeking fines and may impose prison sentences on one or both of the men in the case. Although the amounts of the fines have not been specified, based on similar cases, the fines could go up to as much as a quarter-million dollars. The final penalty for Huff and Slotky will be determined this coming summer, when a hearing on the case has been scheduled. Judge Madigan was quoted in the local press as saying: “Because there is no known safe exposure level to asbestos, this careless and improper handling of a known carcinogen created a very serious danger to public health.”