Cleanup leads to criminal charges

Company working on Alaska Pulp Corp. mill site accused of nine felonies

Posted: Monday, February 21, 2000

ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage company has been charged with federal pollution crimes for its cleanup work at the former Alaska Pulp Corp. mill in Sitka.

Technic Services Inc. allegedly disposed of asbestos improperly in 1996 and then induced workers to lie to federal inspectors. The company and one of its owners have been charged with nine felony violations of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

Asbestos can cause cancer when inhaled. Once used as insulating material, it is common in older buildings.

According to last week's indictment, co-owner Rick Rushing and his workers failed to wet asbestos - to keep the hazardous particles from getting into the air - before removing it from pipes and boilers.

Rushing also instructed workers to turn off their asbestos-monitoring devices and directed them to lie about washing asbestos down the mill drains and into nearby Silver Bay, according to court documents.

Technic Services discharged asbestos slush mixed with chemicals down the mill's drains, according to U.S. Attorney Timothy Burgess.

Burgess said he doesn't know how much asbestos leaked into the air or water. Over nine months, the company removed several hundred cubic yards of asbestos insulation, Burgess said.

Workers at the site alerted the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to the problems, Burgess said.

EPA investigators checked the mill in March 1996 and found several violations, Burgess said. The criminal investigation started in 1998, when a worker again contacted the EPA.

Sitka resident Richard Biggs, one of about 10 who worked on the project, said Rushing duped them.

``He made us believe we were doing something right when at one time or another we all asked him, `Are we supposed to be doing it this way?''' Biggs said.

Biggs said Rushing told them they were allowed to follow relaxed cleanup guidelines because the building was abandoned. Biggs said workers didn't wet the asbestos at first, but changed procedures after the March inspections.

Following the inspection, the company built structures to contain the asbestos, Biggs said, but some asbestos-laden water eventually leaked into the mill's drains.

Biggs said the company knew it was leaking for about a month and a half.

After the EPA investigated the site, Biggs said, Rushing asked workers to sign a letter denying asbestos had ever leaked into the water.

Biggs said he signed the letter because Rushing told them he was planning to sue the government. Biggs said he promised each worker $100,000 if they signed the letter and the company won the lawsuit.

Rushing did not return a phone call to his office.

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