Fire was observed smoldering for nearly a month in 2017, state alleged

DES MOINES, IOWA (January 10, 2020) — A Belle Plaine man has agreed to pay the state $35,000 for illegally burning trailer homes containing asbestos and to refrain from further environmental violations. 

Joel G Thys admitted for the purposes of a settlement that he violated solid waste and air-quality laws, according to a consent decree filed in Iowa District Court in Benton County. Officials observed that the pile of debris was smoldering weeks after the initial burning in 2017, endangering neighbors. 

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), filed a petition in equity against Thys on November 2, 2018.

According to the petition: 

In February 2017, Thys created an estimated 20-foot-pile containing trees and five trailer homes on his property in Belle Plaine, near his car dealership and a residential area. The local fire chief told Thys not to burn the mixed pile of debris, and the city denied his request to burn the pile. 

Aware he did not have any approval, Thys still decided to burn the pile around 3AM on February 23. A DNR employee noted that the pile remained hot and smoking on March 3, and Iowa OSHA noted the debris was still smoldering on March 22. Samples taken from the debris confirmed the presence of asbestos. 

Before the 2017 burn, the DNR had cited Thys twice for open burning violations and once for asbestos violations. 

For purposes of settling the lawsuit, Thys admitted that he demolished and burned material containing asbestos and that he failed to properly inspect and abate the asbestos-containing material before demolishing and burning.   

Asbestos is a hazardous air pollutant known to cause disease and cancer in humans. There is no known safe level of asbestos exposure. 

The $35,000 penalty will go into a state fund for environmental and emergency-response purposes, as set forth in Iowa Code 29C.8A.  

Willful failure to comply with the consent decree may subject Thys to contempt of court and further penalties, according to the decree.

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