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Health Department Issues More Enforcement Actions Related to Asbestos-Abatement & Why It’s an Air Quality Concern

You might think of asbestos as an old-school problem – one that’s long been conquered. But here in Allegheny County, the battle rages on: Health officials continue to pump out enforcement actions for asbestos-related violations of our local air pollution control act.

For those who may be unaware: When asbestos is left undisturbed it does not pose a health risk. However, during renovation or demolition, it’s common for old, brittle asbestos products to release tiny – even microscopic – fibers. These tasteless, odorless fibers can remain suspended in the air and enter your lungs when you inhale. 

Once inhaled, asbestos stays there forever. Like PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), asbestos is known as a “forever chemical” because its chemistry keeps it from breaking down in the body. 

Exposure to airborne asbestos fibers can cause serious health issues including asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and pleural disease.  And there is no safe minimum level of exposure to asbestos.  An estimated 10,000 cases of asbestos-related disease occur each year in the U.S. as a result of past exposures. It can take 20-40 years for some of these diseases to manifest, so we are currently seeing the results of exposures from the 1980s and 1990s now.

It should be noted that asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. And health officials say that the mortality rate for mesothelioma in Allegheny County is “significantly higher” than that of both Pennsylvania and the nation.

Wasn’t Asbestos Banned a Long Time Ago?

Quick history lesson: Asbestos refers to a collection of silicate minerals used in myriad products throughout the 20th Century – everything from cement to shingles – because of its strength and resistance to heat. 

Asbestos-containing material (also known as ACMs) was used in residential and commercial settings for decades, even after the carcinogenic effects of this fiber became apparent in humans. In the 1980s, asbestos was partially banned in the United States in new building materials but some products are still permitted to use small amounts of asbestos. 

Asbestos is commonly found in tile flooring, shingles, cement floors, insulation, and fireplace flues. 

So What Are the Local Asbestos-Related Air Quality Regulations?

Allegheny County Health Department’s rules require an asbestos survey (a thorough inspection to determine the presence of asbestos) for all renovation and demolition projects and depending on the quantity of asbestos identified, proper notification, specific work practices, and proper disposal of asbestos-containing material are required. 

The notification requirements for facility demolition and renovation activities are dependent upon the amount of asbestos-containing material at the site. 

If less than 160 square feet of ACM is identified in the facility, a properly completed notification must be submitted 10 days before demolition or renovation activity begins. If the amount of ACM is 160 square feet or more, a properly completed permit application must be submitted with appropriate payment at least 10 working days before the asbestos abatement begins. 

A licensed asbestos contractor must remove all ACM identified as described in the permit. Demolition or renovation activities may proceed once ACHD has performed a final clearance inspection.

Note: Demolition or renovation activities performed for a private homeowner of a residential structure with four or fewer dwelling units are exempt from the asbestos regulations unless they are part of a larger installation or project. 

Now that you understand the problem and the regulations, here are the latest enforcement actions:

Stop-Work Orders Issued to Businesses Because of Asbestos Violations

On March 13, ACHD issued four stop-work orders related to asbestos violations. Two of those happened at fast-food restaurants that were being renovated or demolished.

Live in the Robinson Township area? Because the Wendy’s located at 6296 Steubenville Pike was one of the locations where health officials said asbestos violations occurred. According to the stop-work order issued to Steve Thompson, chief financial officer of Primary Aim LLC, the company failed to perform an asbestos survey prior to commencing renovations there. ACHD said Primary Aim LLC also removed asbestos-containing material without a licensed contractor. The company also failed to properly dispose of the material.              

Then there were the violations at the Taco Bell restaurant located at 825 Freeport Road in Aspinwall. The ACHD stop-work order issued to Charter Foods said its contractor failed to perform an asbestos survey prior to commencing renovations, performing abatement without a survey, and removing asbestos-containing material without a permit. 

The order also said the contractor failed to properly dispose of asbestos-containing material. In addition to being ordered to cease renovations, Charter Foods was also ordered to conduct air and dust sampling of the renovation area and provide them to ACHD.

ACHD on March 19 issued a stop-work order against George and Carol Fisher for failing to conduct an asbestos survey prior to commencing renovations at a commercial property located at 5401 Penn Ave.  The Fishers were ordered to conduct air monitoring and bulk-sample the remaining material for asbestos.

Trent Seaman of the Trisda Group also received a stop-work order from ACHD regarding asbestos violation at 160 Southern Ave. in Pittsburgh. Like the other cases, the health department noted that the company failed to conduct an asbestos survey. ACHD ordered the company to cease renovations and obtain air and dust samples representative of the area being renovated.

Warning of Violation Orders Issued to Businesses Because of Asbestos Violations

ACHD put a Sewickley company on notice March 26, issuing a warning of violation letter regarding asbestos-related infractions. ACHD found that BLT Contracting’s Patrick McGee was not a certified asbestos contractor at the time abatement work was conducted and a final inspection completed. 

According to the letter, the final inspection of a commercial development at 4200 Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh occurred on Dec. 28, 2020. McGee became certified by the state on Dec. 31, 2020. 

The department issued a similar warning to Munhal-based Gray Waste Management Corp. for asbestos-related violations at a commercial development site located at 4724 Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh.

According to the April 1 warning of violation letter, Gray Waste Management’s Mervin Jones was not certified by the state to conduct asbestos-abatement work when health officials completed a final inspection March 30. ACHD ordered Jones to stay off the site until his certification is re-established. 

In both Warning of Violation letters, ACHD noted that failure to comply in the future could result in civil penalties in the amount of $25,000-a-day or even criminal prosecution.

Notice of Violation Letters Issued to Businesses Because of Asbestos Violations

ACHD also issued notice of violation letters to three businesses for various asbestos-related violations.

Two LLCs located at 373 S. Atlantic Ave. in Pittsburgh – 4012 Liberty Avenue Development and 4014 Liberty Avenue Development – for the improper removal of suspected asbestos-containing materials by an unlicensed contractor as well as uncertified workers. According to the letter, the companies failed to obtain a final inspection prior to opening to the public. 

The department also issued a notice of violation letter to Stanfield Allen of Allen Demolition Co. for commencing the demolition of 243 West Eighth Ave. in Tarantum – and removing containment barriers –  prior to ACHD conducting a final inspection of the property. 

In each of the letters, ACHD requested a meeting with the companies to discuss the violations.

Editor’s Note: Did you know that you can view enforcement orders on the ACHD website here? The page is updated periodically. Along with the above-mentioned actions, ACHD issued Notice of Violation letters against Eastman Chemical and SteelServ for minor infractions of their installation permits. The department also posted an enforcement order it issued against the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for air quality permit violations at its Clinton printing facility.

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  1. Barbara Murock says:

    I am having my roof replaced next month. It is probably 40 years old. What should I do to protect myself and neighbors? Can I trust the company to test and properly abate if needed? What does abatement mean besides watering down the roof as shingles are removed? They are delivering a dumpster to our house for the demo part.
    The reason I am getting my roof replaced is because I had the gutters cleaned as they frequently overflow and the person cleaning them told me they were clogged by bits from the shingles. And looking at my roof I see they are rumply looking.

    1. Amanda Gillooly says:

      Good morning, Ms. Murock. Thanks for reaching out to us. The Allegheny County Health Department stresses the importance of consulting with a licensed
      asbestos professional before disturbing building materials. Here’s a list of licensed asbestos abatement contractors for your reference: https://www.alleghenycounty.us/uploadedFiles/Allegheny_Home/Health_Department/Programs/Air_Quality/Asbestos-Abatement-Contractor-List-4-29-19.pdf

      If you have any specific questions, feel free to contact the health department. In the meantime, the ACHD website has a bunch of resources that might be helpful to you. Here is the main asbestos page: https://www.alleghenycounty.us/Health-Department/Programs/Air-Quality/Asbestos-and-Abrasive-Blasting.aspx

      Here’s the link to some educational materials provided by ACHD: https://www.alleghenycounty.us/uploadedFiles/Allegheny_Home/Health_Department/Programs/Air_Quality/Asbestos-ACHD-asbestos-and-your-health.pdf

      If we can be of further help or can provide any additional info, please don’t hesitate to let me know how. You can email me anytime at amanda@gasp-pgh.org.

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