Judge sentences, fines asbestos company owner

Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The owner of an Anchorage asbestos removal company was sentenced to almost five years in prison and fined $520,000 Friday for violating environmental laws and obstructing a federal investigation into the 1996 cleanup of a pulp mill in Sitka.

His corporation, Technic Services Inc., was fined $600,000.

Owner Rick Rushing was convicted in October of knowingly exposing his employees to high levels of cancer-causing asbestos in the 1996 cleanup, falsifying the results of personal air monitors that record asbestos exposure and directing workers to flush chemicals, asbestos and antifreeze down drains that emptied into Silver Bay, the water surrounding Sitka.

Rushing was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Anchorage a week after he failed to show up for his scheduled sentencing. He told U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland that he didn't show up in court because his 78-year-old mother was visiting from Idaho and ''it was killing her'' that he might go to prison. Rushing said his mother left Monday. He turned himself in to federal officials Wednesday.

During the hearing, assistant U.S. attorney Tim Burgess categorized Rushing as someone who ''either cajoled or bullied'' employees into violating laws.

Several former Technic Service employees testified during the October trial that Rushing instructed them to sidestep worker protection laws for removing asbestos because it was time-consuming and costly, Burgess said. Burgess described the amount of asbestos that workers were exposed to as substantial and expressed concern that in the future the exposure might cause serious health problems.

Technic Services was removing asbestos from the Japanese-owned Alaska Pulp Co. mill in Sitka in 1996. The mill closed in 1994, leaving 400 people without jobs. Burgess said that people were desperate for work in Sitka and that Rushing took advantage of them.

Paul Nangle, Rushing's attorney, told Holland that Rushing did not violate federal environmental laws. Rushing told Holland that he was a victim of ''bad politics'' in Sitka. He also said he didn't encourage any worker to violate laws.

Holland dismissed Nangle's claim that Rushing was not involved in the day-to-day cleanup activity. A key piece of evidence in the trial was a videotape that showed Rushing using a power saw to rip down pieces of asbestos from ceiling pipes. The tape shows plumes of asbestos dust in the air as Rushing drops large chunks to the floor. An employee turned the videotape over to the Environmental Protection Agency, according to Burgess.

Holland sentenced Rushing to 57 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and said he would be required, while on probation, to inform a probation officer and the Environmental Protection Agency if he worked on an asbestos-removal contract.

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