Building owner accuses asbestos removers hired by city of not being safe

Source: http://jg-tc.com, July 29, 2011
By: Rob Stroud

The owner of a former neighborhood grocery store set for demolition has voiced concerns that a contractor hired by the city is improperly removing asbestos from there.

The owner of contractor Triple A Asbestos has responded that his crews are meeting all state and federal guidelines. Their exchange resulted in an inspector from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency visiting the site, 1112 Division St., on Thursday. The inspector found proper disposal methods to be in use, but is still examining evidence, officials said.

Terry Kroening, who owns the two-story building, said he and other witnesses have seen the contractor’s crews break shingles and siding, potentially releasing asbestos.

Crews dropped shingles and siding, causing these materials to break, and later used crow bars to break apart these materials in barrels, Kroening said. The work took place without water always being used to keep the materials and the asbestos within them wetted, he said. This is a health hazard, Kroening said.

Kroening said he is okay with the city demolishing the building, which was in dilapidated condition even before he purchased it early last year. However, the building owner said he does not want to be billed for allegedly shoddy workmanship regarding the asbestos removal.

“I am not going to pay a bill for professional service when they go out and hire a bunch of guys that are not even doing what they were paid to do,” Kroening said.

Lee Austif, owner of Pana-based Triple A Asbestos, said his crews have been meeting regulations from IEPA and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the Charleston building, including using a mechanical lift to move materials from up high and keeping materials wetted down with water.

The city attorney verified their use of water during a visit to the site, Austif said. His crews have taken air samples at the site and not detected any asbestos in actionable levels set by OSHA, he added.

Austif, whose firm has been in business for more than 25 years, said he is aware that Kroening has photographed and videotaped his crews at work. Austif said he welcomes Kroening to share these images with others because they show his crews meeting regulations and will be good advertising for his business.

“We did our work properly and legally,” Austif said.

IEPA spokesman Dennis McMurray said the inspector talked to witnesses who reported seeing the crews spray water on the shingles and siding, place these materials on plastic sheets, and them bag them up for disposal. He said the inspector observed these proper disposal methods in use on Thursday.

McMurray said the inspector does still plan to examine two small pieces of materials he found laying on concrete there to see if any asbestos was released and to examine Kroening’s video.

City Manager Scott Smith said the city, which is set to pay for the demolition, is required to have a licensed asbestos removal contractor handle this portion of the demolition.

“City officials hired a professionally licensed firm (Triple A) that has been in the business of asbestos abatement work for years and is certified to do so in the state of Illinois,” Smith said.

Smith said Kroening still has the option to demolish the building on his own prior to the deadline the city has set.

The city had been seeking the repair or demolition of this vacant, dilapidated structure since at least early 2010. The city halted these proceedings last year after Kroening acquired the building and announced plans to rehabilitate it for renewed use as rental housing. Kroening said he was unable to carry out his plans to rehabilitate the building.

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