Company Faces Almost $400,000 Fine For Knowingly Exposing Employees to Arsenic

U.S. Minerals will have to pay a $393,200 fine and be under probation for five years after pleading guilty to exposing employees at an Anaconda, Montana plant to arsenic.

From 2013 until its closing this summer, the plant converted black slag mining waste into roofing materials. Montana Right Now reported the dust that forms when the slag is processed releases inorganic arsenic into the air.

Prosecutors said several organizations including the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services told U.S. Minerals between the years of 2015 and 2019 that its employees were at risk, but the company did not do anything to fix the issues, even after repeat inspections over multiple years.

According to the American Cancer Society, exposure to arsenic over long periods of time can cause skin changes, liver and kidney damage, and a shortage of white and red blood cells. It can also cause a variety of cancers.

The company pleaded guilty in August to negligent endangerment, saying in its plea it "negligently placed another person in the imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury."

The plea agreement includes increased oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on company plants in five states. The company also has to monitor the health of affected former employees.

gavel, judge
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen sentenced U.S. Minerals to a fine, probation and medical monitoring of employees poisoned with arsenic at the company's Anaconda, Montana facility. Above, a judge's gavel on a table. Getty Images

Tinley Park, Illinois-based U.S. Minerals was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen on Friday. The company pleaded guilty in August to negligent endangerment, a misdemeanor violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

Under a plea agreement, U.S. Minerals plants in Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas and Louisiana will be under increased oversight by the EPA and OSHA during a five-year probationary period.

Employees who take advantage of the medical monitoring program would not give up the right to pursue civil litigation against U.S. Minerals, under the agreement.

Five of six employees tested at the Anaconda plant in July 2015 had elevated levels of arsenic, according to a 2016 report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. At the time, respiratory protection was provided but not required, and there was no running water or handwashing stations at the plant

The company was earlier fined nearly $107,000 by OSHA for violations in 2016.

Montana's health department ordered the plant to temporarily close in February 2019 after at least two workers had elevated arsenic levels in their urine in 2018.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.