Iowa Investigates Asbestos Case at Landmark Des Moines Building

February 12, 2008

State officials are looking into whether workers and visitors to a landmark building in downtown Des Moines were negligently exposed to asbestos.

In September, the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Bureau began an investigation into what happened at the 19-story Equitable Building, which is being partially converted into luxury condominiums by developer Bob Knapp.

The inquiry was launched after the Iowa Department of Natural Resources alleged that Knapp and his firms failed to check for cancer-causing asbestos before work began on upper floors of the building, which houses a law firm, jeweler, bookstore, insurance firm and dental office.

The DNR said building employees had found dry asbestos insulation throughout the building and evidence of improper disposal. Removing asbestos from a large building can be an expensive process, costing hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

Robert Douglas, Knapp’s attorney, said his client disputes the claims and said that state officials received documents showing that Knapp’s crews followed safety rules.

“The most important thing is making sure all the tenants are in a safe environment,” Douglas said. “We believe they are.”

Mary Bryant, the state’s occupational-health administrator, said the investigation will focus on whether Knapp and his contractors followed safety rules and properly trained and equipped workers. If there were violations, it could trigger Bryant’s office to order changes or fines for Knapp’s firms, Equitable LP and the Equitable Condo.

The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, which oversees the DNR, will decide whether to turn over the case to the attorney general’s office.

The DNR cited Knapp in 2000 for failing to inspect a building that was developed into the Suites of 800 Locust hotel in Des Moines. There were no occupational-safety fines in the case.

Information from: The Des Moines Register,

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