Contractors Fined More Than $1 Million for Illegal Asbestos Disposal
A contractor has been fined by the Allegheny County Health Department for almost $1.1 million for the illegal disposing of asbestos at the former Westinghouse headquarters. Ramesh Jain and his son Vikas Jain appealed the fine in 2017, which was later dismissed January 12, giving the Jains 30 days to pay $1,091,675 to the county clean air fund. Attorneys for Vikas Jain put out a statement saying he accepts full responsibility for his conduct and feels remorse for any harm that he caused. The lawyer also stated that Jain has taken redemptive action to reverse any harm he has caused including paying over $1 million to remediate any asbestos issues at the property.
A Churchill building inspector reported that he saw people removing asbestos containing material from the Westinghouse building. Asbestos was widely used for its heat and fire-resistant properties and was put in homes and buildings as insulation. The Health Department responded to the report by giving an enforcement order stating all work had to be stopped on buildings 401 and 501 and to not allow anyone in the buildings, which the Jains appealed. Vikas Jain had additional charges brought against him for violating the Clean Air Act for the illegal removal of asbestos. He was sentenced to one month in prison and three years of supervised release, nine months of which were home detention.
Jain’s company Churchill Developments LP bought the majority of the George Westinghouse Research and Technology Park in 2012 to turn it into residential and commercial developments. This didn’t work out, so they instead leased the property. An Amazon warehouse was approved in 2021, but Amazon stopped its plan to build there.
The site, which was built between the 1950s and 1970s, has around one million square feet of testing, laboratory, and office space. Jain knew asbestos was at the site when he bought the property. He received a 2009 environmental site assessment stating that floor tile, pipe insulation, transit panels, wall plaster, laboratory countertops, fume hoods, and water line fittings all had asbestos containing material. The report also stated that all thermal insulation, surfacing material, and asphalt/vinyl flooring that were installed before 1981 should be assumed to contain asbestos, even without the proper testing.
The proper permits were not acquired to do renovations on the site. The health department estimates that there is more than 160,000 square feet of asbestos containing floor tile and 10,000 linear feet of amosite. Regulations from The U.S. EPA require permits for removing asbestos containing material that is more than 160 square feet and 260 linear feet. Inspectors for the Health Department did not see evidence of the proper safety equipment materials, postings, practices, and procedures related to asbestos removal. Workers also did not have the proper protective gear when handling asbestos and disposed of the materials in a dumpster near a residential rental property. The waste from the dumpster was taken to a landfill that did not qualify for asbestos disposal.
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