Anyone who has ever read the work of Mark Twain or watched any number of classic movies is aware that steamboats with giant paddle wheels once traveled up and down the Mississippi River on a regular basis. There were grand boats with multiple decks and featured casinos, shows and balconies overlooking the water.
While these large paddle wheelers have not been used for nearly a century for the purpose of transportation, they have served as popular tourist attractions. However, the boats that are left are reproductions of the original giant paddle wheelers. In fact the Mississippi Queen currently operating on the river is a modern replacement of another replica constructed in 1976.
It is this 1976 boat that is subject of a major asbestos-related criminal case that resulted in two guilty pleas and a possible two years in federal prison, according to a recent news feature from The Advocate. The boat was made to truly impress anyone who traveled on it. No expense was spared, and it even included the world’s largest calliope. This was a huge brass pipe organ that used steam from the boilers to make musical tones when the keys were struck.
However, in addition to a giant pipe organ, the boat also featured a lot of asbestos, as it was made at the end of the era in which asbestos was used in most construction in the United States. Asbestos was used most heavily in the maritime industry. Not only did it serve as an excellent bonding agent, but also it was useful to prevent a fire at sea, which is the worst fear of anyone aboard a ship. While this is not necessarily a danger on a riverboat, it was still the industry standard.
The boat was owned by a company know as the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., but, as result of financial troubles, its parent company declared bankruptcy. The company was later purchased by another company who took the same name, but took the Mississippi Queen out of revenue service in 2007 to replace it with the Mississippi Queen currently navigating the river for tourists.
At first, owners were going to renovate the boat, but they instead decided to sell if for scrap to a company in California. The woman who purchased the boat for $800,000 was going to have it demolished, so she could sell the scrap to a company in China that would pay significantly more money for the material than she paid for the boat.
At this point, the EPA told her that he boat likely contained asbestos, and she had to have tests performed. Once she confirmed the presence of asbestos, she could not find a dock owner willing to do the demolition work, especially at a cost that would make financial sense. She then contracted with a dock owner to strip the boat and failed to disclose the results of the tests. This meant that any workers would be unknowingly exposed to deadly asbestos fibers. The United States Attorney’s Office chose to prosecute her for these asbestos abatement violations. She pleaded guilty and now faces up to two years in prison.
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Mississippi Queen steamboat asbestos case ends with two guilty pleas — owner, company failed to disclose the deadly material to regulators, January 16, 2016, The Advocate, By David J. Mitchell
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