FAIRBANKS — The state attorney involved in a lawsuit against the owners of two hydronic wood boilers near Woodriver Elementary School said Wednesday the responsibility of creating years of air pollution should rest solely on the shoulders of the owners.
An attorney for the owners, Andrew and Gloria Straughn, said Tuesday that the manufacturer, distributor and retailer of two wood boilers also are responsible for the pollution that has plagued the school and neighborhood for years.
“The theory that the defendants have offered us, that somehow the manufacturer is somehow responsible for the Straughns’ decision to violate the state law, is incorrect,” Assistant Attorney General Seth Beausang said.
The Straughns’ attorney, Michael Walleri, contended Tuesday that the Straughns were led to believe the two boilers were safe and clean. He said he plans to request the manufacturers, distributors and retailer also be held responsible.
Both boilers, Walleri said, sported Environmental Protection Agency qualification labels. He notes that the voluntary emission standard to earn EPA qualification is a far cry from the stricter certification program used for wood stoves and the manufacturer knew that.
“The EPA testing is not sensitive to the Fairbanks conditions and (the boilers are) only tested under ideal circumstances,” he said. “The tests wouldn’t show the pollution, (the manufacturers) know that’s going on with this.”
But Beausang said the Straughns were well aware of the pollution from their boilers, having received and ignored an order by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to shut down the boilers in March 2011.
“The state ordered them to stop using the boilers, and they ignored that,” he said. “No one else is responsible for that other than the Straughns.”
Beausang said the state would oppose any effort by the defendants to add anyone else to share in the responsibility for the pollution.
The state is seeking to shut down the wood boilers as well as monetary compensation for its investigation, its legal fees and civil penalties for violating state law.
The News-Miner incorrectly stated in a previous story that the boilers had been removed as of Tuesday. Walleri had said the boilers had been “dismantled” and were in the process of being removed.
Beausang said that a recent DEC inspection of the boilers found they had only been “unplugged” and could be made operational without much time or effort.
Even if the boilers are removed, Beausang said the state intends to continue with the lawsuit to recover legal fees and the civil penalty elements of its claims.
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