A South Dakota man has been fined $3,000 and ordered to attend a class on worker-safety standards after five employees he was supervising inhaled lead while working in Idaho, the U.S. attorney's office said.
John Wilhelm Myre, 55, of Garretson, South Dakota, was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale. He earlier pleaded guilty to negligent endangerment under the federal Clean Air Act.
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Prosecutors say Myre was supervising five Dakota Southern Railway workers who were using acetylene torches to cut apart steel beams on a railroad trestle near Kamiah, Idaho, in January 2013. The beams had been painted with lead-based paint. The torches vaporized the lead, and the workers inhaled it. One man was hospitalized with acute lead poisoning, and four others had high levels of lead in their bloodstreams.
Lead poisoning can cause high blood pressure; abdominal pain; headaches; memory loss; pain, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet; and declines in mental functioning.
"This is an astonishing case of admitted negligence with tragic consequences," Tyler Amon, special agent-in-charge of the Environmental Protection Agency's Criminal Investigation Division in Seattle, said in a statement. "Despite learning that one worker had to be hospitalized by the process, Mr. Myre's workers continued their toxic task for cutting steel and breathing lead fumes."
The five cases of lead poisoning were completely avoidable, Amon said.
Myre's attorney, James Siebe of Moscow, said his client had no training or experience with lead paint and pleaded guilty to avoid a felony charge.
"John feels badly about it, but obviously nothing was intentional," Siebe said. "The judge must have gathered that by virtue of the fact that he wasn't given any jail."
Dale also sentenced Myre to three years of supervised release, 90 hours of community service and ordered him to complete an Occupational Safety and Health Administration class on safety standards involving lead paint within the next six months.
Dakota Southern Railway was not prosecuted.