KDKA Investigates: County Shuts Down Development Project Over Improper Asbestos Removal

CHURCHILL (KDKA) — When Westinghouse pulled out of Churchill, the borough — with the promise of millions of dollars in state tax money — placed its hopes on the redevelopment of a 160-acre site.

But now those plans are in jeopardy. The proposed developer is under investigation, suspected of improperly removing tons of asbestos from the buildings.

“It’s hundreds of thousands of square feet of asbestos,” said Jim Kelly, of the Allegheny County Health Department’s Environmental Health section.

The county Health Department has issued a stop work order and has padlocked and sealed the buildings on the site.

However, KDKA has obtained video of hallways where the Health Department says unlicensed and unprotected workers removed thousands of yards of asbestos-laden tiles from two buildings.

KDKA also has photographs, which the county is reviewing, including a picture of a pickup truck piled high with garbage bags, allegedly containing the cancer-causing material.

The county says the asbestos was removed from the site without required protections and safeguards, such as sealing the buildings, using negative air pressure and encapsulating the asbestos waste.

“We have no evidence that any of those procedures were followed,” Kelly said.

The Westinghouse property was purchased two years ago for $1 million by Ramesh Jain and his son, Vikas, owners of the Motel 6 on Banksville Road, where police last year broke up a prostitution ring and has also been the site of many drug overdose calls.

The Jains have been approved for several million dollars in state grants to tear down two of the Westinghouse buildings and refurbish the others.

They wouldn’t talk to KDKA’s Andy Sheehan about the asbestos investigation. But the county says rather than hire a licensed contractor to remove the asbestos, as required by law; they hired a bunch of untrained workers.

According to the county Health Department report, the Jains gave the unlicensed workers grinders to grind up and bag the asbestos without any regard for proper procedures or precautions.

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The equipment company that owns the grinders and other tools rented by the Jains tell KDKA that they won’t accept them back.

Also, the fear is now that the asbestos removed from the buildings was improperly dumped. The county doesn’t know where it is and can’t find a record of it being taken to a landfill that is licensed to accept asbestos waste.

Sheehan: “And if this was improperly disposed?”

Kelly: “It has the possibility of contaminating the local air, there’s exposure to people. There’s the public health hazard there.”

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