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Keokuk company fined for demolishing buildings that contained asbestos

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Keokuk company fined for demolishing buildings that contained asbestos

Mar 29, 2024 | 4:34 pm ET
By Jared Strong
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Keokuk company fined for demolishing buildings that contained asbestos
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Asbestos warning sign. (Stock photo via Getty Images)

About 10 employees of a Keokuk company might have been exposed to airborne asbestos when they demolished several buildings northwest of that town last year, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The work by the Ames Business Group was part of its renovation of the former Midwest Academy, a boarding school for children that closed in 2016 amid a sexual abuse investigation. The company bought the 43-acre property in 2022 and has transformed the complex into an events center called The Hidden Tower and a sports venue called The Lab.

In June 2023, someone made an anonymous complaint to the DNR about the demolition of three buildings at the site.

During the department’s investigation, company owner Wesley Ames said asbestos had been removed from the buildings during a different renovation project about two decades ago, but he didn’t have documented proof, according to DNR. Federal rules require asbestos inspections of buildings before they are torn down.

Subsequent tests of some of the demolition debris showed that it contained asbestos, according to a recent DNR order.

Up to 10 of the company’s employees worked at the site during the demolitions for at least a week.

“Since the demolition occurred in a dry and dusty environment, there was potential inhalation of asbestos fibers by people located in and around the site,” the DNR order said.

Asbestos can damage people’s lungs and is known to cause cancer and other lung diseases. The department recently fined the company $2,000 and ordered it to properly dispose of the debris within 90 days.

It was the second time in about a month that the department fined Ames Business Group. The company operates A.C. Contracting and Southern Iowa Recycle, which grinds wooden pallets into mulch.

The DNR fined the company $10,000 in February for accumulating up to 2 million pallets at a site south of Burlington.