Copper Lounge Latest: Hultgren Construction Fined Over Improper Removal of Asbestos

Documents obtained show developer had construction workers remove suspect asbestos-containing pipe wrap

Legal concerns continue to mount over how a Sioux Falls developer handled a former downtown redevelopment project – the same developer now involved in a new $50 million public/private partnership on a downtown parking ramp, hotel, and commercial development.

Hultgren Construction, the company that had been renovating the Copper Lounge, has settled with the state over allegations it did not properly remove asbestos from the building before its collapse on December 2, 2016.

Documents obtained by KDLT show the company will pay a civil penalty for damages to the environment for $20,151.50 to the state Department of Environmental and Natural Resources.

The violations were discovered only after the building collapse. As both rescue and clean-up crews responded to the scene, city and other officials contacted the DENR to ask about existing asbestos records. DENR officials confirmed on December 2 that no asbestos records existed for the Copper Lounge or the adjoining former Skelly’s Pub & Grill, this was despite the previous and current owners knowing asbestos-containing pipe insulation was present per a 1999 report.

During ongoing inspections of the building to try and arrange for appropriate removal of the debris, it was discovered that three construction workers for Hultgren were asked to remove an old boiler in the basement of the Copper Lounge along with 50 linear feet of vacated heating system piping including suspect asbestos-containing pipe wrap. None of the workers were certified asbestos contractors, which is a violation of state law. The methods used “included spraying pipe wrap with water, cutting with a utility knife, stripping from the pipe, placing into a black garbage bag which was tied and brought to the city landfill.” The workers reportedly wore full body suits, rubber gloves, goggles, and respirators to do the work on October 24, 2016.

Further investigation indicates upwards of 380 linear feet of asbestos-containing pipe wrap and insulation cement were removed from the former Copper Lounge basement sometime in October of 2016. State law requires anything over 260 linear feet of asbestos-containing material to be subject to notification, emission control, and waste disposal requirements. DENR reports they were never notified of any removal. And of the 46 loads of waste taken to the Sioux Falls Landfill between October 5 and December 2, 2016 as construction and demolition debris, none were labeled asbestos waste.

These latest developments follow news earlier this week that a criminal investigation is underway in regard to the building collapse. Charges could be levied relative to the worker, Ethan McMahon, that was killed that day.

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