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Illinois building demolition creates potential asbestos exposure

What do you get when you combine two buildings, three business owners, a destructive fire, asbestos, a city, a mayor, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, an excavating company, the Illinois Attorney General's office, and a whole lot of confusion? So far, this combination has led to massive amounts of confusion, potential asbestos exposure, and a high likelihood of legal battles.

The story started simply enough. About one year ago, a fire in the city of Belleville, Illinois, destroyed two old buildings which housed three small businesses - a beauty salon, a thrift store, and a mental health clinic. Within hours of the fire, Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert hired an excavation company to tear the buildings down. So far, so good.

However, Eckert failed to realize that Illinois state law requires that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency be notified prior to such a demolition, so that the agency can check for asbestos and act accordingly before the building is torn down. Neither Eckert nor the excavators did so. Later, the IEPA inspected the building site and found asbestos. The state cited the city, the excavation company, and the building owners for their failure to notify the IEPA of the demolition before it took place.

This is where the confusion sets in. After Eckert failed to meet several deadlines for asbestos clean-up, the IEPA threatened to turn the case over to the Attorney General's office for potential prosecution. But it is not clear whether the city or the property owners will be the target of that legal fight. Eckert is claiming that the city's hands are tied because the property is privately owned. Yet the property owners are claiming that Eckert is the one who took action to demolish the buildings while failing to comply with IEPA regulations.

While the various parties sort out their legal mess, residents of Belleville can rest assured that they are not in danger of asbestos exposure. The IEPA has stated that, because the asbestos is embedded in the dirt where the buildings once stood, the health risk to the public is low.

Source: Belleville News-Democrat, "Fire still leaves big hole in downtown Belleville," Laura Girresch, 15 May 2011

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