Hall-Kimbrell Environmental Services is facing a record $5.8 million in fines by the EPA, which claims the Lawrence company bungled asbestos management plans for school districts in eight states.
"The $5.8 million fine is the largest ever against an asbestos contractor," said Gwen Brown, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.
Brown said notification packets were mailed last week to public school districts that contracted with Hall-Kimbrell, informing them that the asbestos inspections performed by the company may not have brought the districts into compliance with federal law.
"EPA believes that a majority of (asbestos) management plans prepared by Hall-Kimbrell may be deficient, and may prove ineffective in assisting the schools in managing their asbestos," the agency's notice said.
BROWN SAID the agency planned to make a public announcement later today that school districts in the eight states had been put on notice that they may not be in compliance with the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, which became law in 1986.
Lawrence's Unified School District 497 is among more than 1,300 school districts in 40 states that hired Hall-Kimbrell to conduct the asbestos inspections mandated by AHERA.
Mark Weiland, general counsel for Professional Services Inc., the Lombard, Ill.-based company that acquired Hall-Kimbrell in January 1990, was unavailable for comment this morning. Tom Boogher, a spokesman for Hall-Kimbrell's operations in Lawrence, said company officials here would have no comment.
Brown said the EPA is seeking the $5.8 million in civil penalties against Hall-Kimbrell for work done for school districts in Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Brown said the $5.8 million in fines proposed by the EPA in Washington includes some earlier enforcement actions filed against Hall-Kimbrell.
FOR EXAMPLE, EPA regional offices in Kansas City, Kan., and Denver last year proposed fining Hall-Kimbrell $1,366,000 on similar allegations regarding school inspections the company performed in those regions.
Dale Armstrong, a spokesman for the EPA's regional office in Kansas City, Kan., which has jurisdiction over Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa, said complaints filed against Hall-Kimbrell by that office accounted for a portion of the $5.8 million in proposed fines. He said the $5.8 million in proposed penalties represented an effort to orchestrate enforcement actions against Hall-Kimbrell that have been filed by various regional offices.
"We have a number of cases pending but because there are several regions with cases pending, what they're looking at in Washington is a national settlement of all the cases," he said.
ACCORDING to the notification sent to school districts, the EPA performed follow-up inspections at some schools for which Hall-Kimbrell did initial asbestos inspections and developed asbestos management plans.
"EPA investigators conducting random inspections discovered that some AHERA management plans prepared by Hall-Kimbrell failed to meet the legal and technical requirements" of the law, the EPA notice said.
The notice, which also said that the agency may be filing additional cases against Hall-Kimbrell in the eight states, as well as in others, said the EPA believes that in some instances Hall-Kimbrell failed to detect building materials that contained asbestos.
Brown said that although local school districts may have sought to satisfy the AHERA requirements by contracting with Hall-Kimbrell, they still can be held accountable for non-compliance.
"THEY CAN be liable if they don't correct the deficiencies," Brown said. "So what they have to do is go back and review their plans so they can make sure everything is covered."
Craig Fiegel, division director of business and facilities for the Lawrence public schools, said the district had received notice that some local schools were among those the EPA reinspected and that he also had received the most recent notification regarding the deficiencies in some of Hall-Kimbrell's work.
"As I understand it, some of the problem was with plaster and wallboard that they didn't test," he said.
Fiegel said district officials had been instructed to contact Hall-Kimbrell to ask the company to bring the district into compliance and to perform the additional inspections at no charge.
FIEGEL SAID Hall-Kimbrell did the initial inspections on all Lawrence schools and that he did not know which schools, if any, might require reinspection or new asbestos management plans.
Brown of the EPA said the agency has been in ongoing enforcement negotiations with Hall-Kimbrell since last year and that as part of its settlement proposal, the agency has asked the company to correct deficiencies in its work for the school districts.
"EPA has requested Hall-Kimbrell/PSI to revisit every school for which they have performed AHERA work, to modify management plans, and re-do inspections, where appropriate," the agency's notice said. "To date, Hall-Kimbrell/PSI has failed to enter into an agreement with EPA to revisit each school."
The enforcement action initiated against Hall-Kimbrell by the EPA last year formed one of the contentions in a lawsuit PSI filed against David Kimbrell, who founded the company in 1983 and sold it to PSI seven years later.
In its lawsuit, PSI claimed Kimbrell withheld information about the company's condition and its potential liabilities, including the EPA enforcement actions then pending. Kimbrell countersued alleging that PSI breached stock purchase and employment agreements with him and conducted a campaign of harassment to dislodge him from the company.
Kimbrell could not be reached for comment today.