Detroit man sentenced to prison for Clean Air Act crime

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

A Detroit man has been sentenced to prison in an unusual case that involved violation of federal environmental laws during salvaging work that disturbed materials containing asbestos and ozone-depleting substances.

Terry Williams, 49, plead guilty and was sentenced Friday to 27 months for violating the Clean Air Act while crews dismantled and scrapped the former AMC headquarters in Detroit. The work disturbed materials containing asbestos, according to U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade.

“Individuals who disregard environmental laws create real harm by polluting the air we all breathe,” McQuade said in a statement. “Their conduct not only risks the health of people living near the facility, but jeopardizes air quality in Michigan for future generations.”

In 2012, Williams hired crews to salvage metal from the former automaker’s building on Plymouth Road. His crews dismantled 50-70 air conditioning units charged with R-22 refrigerant, an ozone-depleting substance.

Williams also had fixtures on the property scrapped, ordering crews to cut and remove pipes he knew were insulated with regulated asbestos, McQuade said. He violated federal asbestos regulations by failing to properly wet the the materials to prevent asbestos fibers from becoming airborne. He also failed to properly dispose of the material, she said.

Cases such as Williams’ are not common, said David Giannotti, a California-based attorney who specializes in environmental law.

“It is usually a situation where if they are not following the rules and regulations, they are doing it intentionally,” Giannotti said. “It’s something that generally in my experience the reputable contractors are very keen on it and making sure they comply.”

Giannotti said those who violate the Clean Air Act are likely trying to avoid the additional steps and costs associated with properly dismantling and scrapping of old buildings.

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