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By PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

The original article can be found at The Post Gazette

The would-be developers of the former Westinghouse Research and Technology Park in Churchill are appealing a county ruling that they can afford to pay penalties totaling $1.47 million for the unpermitted removal and disposal of asbestos.

Allegheny County Health Department Court Ruling

The appeal, filed Jan. 16 in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court on behalf of Ramesh and Vikas Jain, asks that the Dec. 20 ruling by Allegheny County Health Department hearing officer Max Slater be set aside and that a new penalty reduction hearing be held .

Mr. Slater, following two days of hearings in August that were closed at the Jains’ request, found that the Jains owned nine companies and had assets of between $13 million and $14 million. His decision put the amount of penalty the Jains could conservatively afford to pay at $1.23 million.

The Jains’ appeal, filed by attorneys David and Maurice Nernberg, also alleges that Mr. Slater should have recused himself from the penalty reduction hearing because in October he dismissed charges in a companion case brought by the health department against Raymond Sida, who worked for the Jains on the Churchill redevelopment project. Mr. Sida testified the Jains tried to bribe him and set him up to be the “fall guy” for the asbestos removal project.

Ramesh Jain and Vikas Jain

The father-and-son developers, who live in Mt. Lebanon, have denied the charges. Their appeal also challenged the constitutionality of state and county laws requiring prepayment of fines before an appeal on the merits of the case can move forward.

Ryan Scarpino, a health department spokesman, said in a statement that the department doesn’t comment on lawsuits or pending litigation. According to Mr. Slater’s decision on the Jains’ penalty reduction appeal, Pennsylvania courts have long upheld the validity of prepayment and bond requirements in administrative cases involving challenges of actions by public agencies enforcing environmental health regulations.

The penalty amount — said by the health department to be the largest it’s ever levied in an asbestos case — was contained in a June 2 emergency order that alleged more than 130,000 square feet of asbestos containing floor tile and pipe insulation was illegally removed from multiple buildings on the 135-acre former Westinghouse property.

The Jains Had No Asbestos Permit

According to the order, the Jains did not obtain obtain required county permits to handle or remove asbestos, did not provide their workers — all Guatemalan nationals — with protective clothing or breathing masks, and took no precautions to prevent asbestos dust from becoming airborne outside the buildings.

Testing of floor tile material found it contained up to 65 percent amosite asbestos, which can cause cancer.

The appeal to Common Pleas Court does not yet have a hearing date. The legal action will likely delay the Jain’s appeal to the health department on the merits of the case.

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