COMMERCE (CBSDFW.COM) – The city of Commerce has filed a lawsuit against a New Orleans-based management company alleging it improperly disposed of asbestos debris discovered three years ago in an apartment complex it owns.
In 2008, a fire destroyed a building at the Live Oak Apartments in the 2200 block of Live Oak Street, which are owned by the New Orleans company Fountainbleau. A report from a Dallas company shortly thereafter found asbestos in the walls, ceilings and tile of the building.
The city said it would have cost more than $80,000 to properly dispose of the asbestos-laced debris, and alleges Fountainbleau cut corners to save money.
In the multi-million dollar lawsuit, the city accuses the property owner of filling public Dumpsters with some of the debris and burying the rest of it in a hole behind the apartments.
“Why? Why? Why would anyone take children and people’s lives and put them in danger to save a dollar?” Asked Richard Hill, the Director of Homeland Security in Hunt County. Hill’s department oversees environmental enforcement.
“It’s a very bad situation,” Hill added.
Hill said the asbestos blew in the wind for years, and the city now fears the water supply could be contaminated because of the buried debris.
According to some residents, a representative with the management company took samples near the buried debris to test if it’s affected the groundwater. Test results should be back later this week.
“The longer this burial site stays there, the more dangerous it is to our water,” Hill said.
Attorneys representing Fountainbleau’s management did not agree to an interview, but did issue a statement:
“We first learned of the city’s lawsuit last Friday. While our response is not due in court until the end of this month, we intend to work with the authorities to resolve any issues and we remain committed to everyone’s safety,” read the statement.
The suit bothers many of the residents who live in the complex. Some call the apartments modest and affordable, and say that the property owners failed to mention the asbestos discovery.
“This is the only place I can afford,’ said Tina Jernigan, a two-year resident. “It makes me feel sick that they ain’t telling us what’s going on around us.”
Jernigan said she’s worried about her two young sons and her asthma, which she said is getting worse. Other residents said they’ve visited doctors after learning of the asbestos and were told that signs of exposure wouldn’t show up for a number of years.
Commerce officials said they only learned of the buried secret after receiving a tip. Daniel Ray, the attorney who represents the city in the suit, said Fountainbleau violated numerous laws and they’re suing to get the mess cleaned up.
“We don’t know who has been exposed or how much exposure they’ve had,” Ray said. “The particles are so small and can become airborne.”
Hunt County District Attorney Nobie Walker said there is a criminal investigation underway as well.