Iowa Contractor Faces Asbestos Fines

You may recall a recent story about the couple who invested $38 million in the restoration of an historic Spokane, Washington landmark–the Davenport Hotel. A good chunk of that $38 million was spent on the removal of the asbestos that ironically saved the building from the wrecker’s ball a few years earlier. Asbestos abatement is not a cheap process–but it’s even more expensive to cut corners, as many contractors across the country (a good number of whom you have read about here at have discovered. Bob Knapp is learning this lesson the hard way. Two of Knapp’s companies were hired for the purpose of renovating the historic Equitable Building in downtown Des Moines in 2006. Since then, his workers have been busy converting the upper floors of the 19-story, 85-year-old structure into luxury condominiums. Neither the workers nor their employer were particularly concerned about the asbestos-containing materials that are almost invariably found in old structures such as the Equitable Building, which first opened in 1923.

Asbestos-containing waste materials were left scattered throughout the construction site. Then, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) received an anonymous tip from someone who apparently recognized the hazard for what it was. From what IDNR investigators discovered, it appears likely that a “considerable” number of people may have been exposed to asbestos over the past year and a half, including workers and prospective buyers. Knapp dismissed the IDNR concerns, stating that the amount of asbestos was insignificant. Nonetheless, the IDNR has decided to make an example of him. Under Iowa state law, the IDNR can fine violators such as Knapp no more than $10,000. In March, that department will file a petition with the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, asking that the case be filed to the state attorney general. This will enable the IDNR to assess a significantly larger fine, and in addition may open the possibility of criminal charges against Knapp. Similar violators in the past have faced fines of as much as $250,000 and prison sentences of up to five years.