DES MOINES — The state of Iowa seeks thousands of dollars in penalties against a Belle Plaine man for illegally burning trailer homes containing asbestos. The pile of debris smoldered for a month in 2017, endangering neighbors.
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, filed a petition in equity Nov. 2 against Joel G. Thys in Iowa District Court in Benton County. The lawsuit seeks civil penalties of up to $15,000 per day for violating regulations on asbestos disposal, opening burning and open dumping, as well as a permanent injunction against Thys to prevent future violations.
According to the petition:
In February 2017, Thys created a 20-foot-pile containing trees and five trailer homes on his property in Belle Plaine, near his car dealership and a residential area. The local fire chief warned Thys not to burn the mixed pile of debris, and the city denied his request to burn the pile.
Thys ignored the warning and began to burn the pile around 3 a.m. on Feb. 20. A DNR employee noted that the fire remained smoking until March 3, and Iowa OSHA noted the debris was still hot and smoldering on March 22. Samples taken from the debris confirmed the presence of asbestos.
Asbestos is a hazardous air pollutant known to cause disease and cancer in humans. There is no known safe level of asbestos exposure.
Before the 2017 burn, the DNR had cited Thys twice for open burning violations and once for asbestos violations.