IA Judge Lowers Fine Against Insituform in Sewer Deaths

Sat January 17, 2004 - Midwest Edition

DES MOINES, IA (AP) A judge has upheld most of the safety violations but lowered the fine against a Missouri company found responsible for a sewer accident that killed two people and injured five others.

Administrative Law Judge I. John Rossi upheld 18 of the 20 violations against Chesterfield, MO-based Insituform Technologies Inc. Despite the ruling, Rossi reduced the proposed fine of $808,250 by more than $650,000, citing industry norms.

Rossi issued his 42-page opinion the week of Dec. 29.

“The evidence clearly shows that there were serious deficiencies” in Insituform’s safety practices during the job, Rossi wrote.

He agreed with state safety inspectors that the city of Des Moines, which hired the company to fix 5 mi. (8 km) of sewer line, shared responsibility for the accident.

The city was fined $2,500 for not making sure Insituform had a rescue plan and for not informing the company of city rescue procedures before crews worked underground.

Daniel Grasshoff, 25, of St. Charles, MO, and Brian Burford, 19, of Lemay, MO, drowned in a sewer trench in July 2002 after they were overcome by sewer gas.

A ladder into the trench wasn’t long enough to reach the bottom of the trench, making rescue attempts more difficult, and respirators, gas detectors and fresh-air blowers at the scene went largely unused, inspectors and company employees testified during a hearing last summer.

Thomas Cook, a lawyer for Insituform, said the company would likely appeal Rossi’s ruling.

The state also may appeal the judge’s decision to lower the fine against the company.