Contractors have found remnants of asbestos in the debris of the fatal building collapse at 22d and Market Streets, raising questions about paperwork filed earlier by the building owners to get demolition permits.
The owner of the four-story building that collapsed during demolition June 5, STB Investment Corp., submitted inspection reports to the city in January - before work began - saying there was "no asbestos found" in two adjacent buildings to be torn down.
The asbestos inspections were performed by Kenneth Hudson, whose credentials had been certified by the city. His reports were submitted by Plato Marinakos, a licensed architect functioning as an "expediter" to obtain the necessary permit from the Department of Licenses and Inspections.
But Geppert Bros. Inc., hired by STB after the collapse to clear the debris, brought in a certified asbestos removal firm last week to do limited work on the site.
City Councilman James F. Kenney has expressed concern about asbestos since the building went down, killing six people in an adjacent Salvation Army thrift shop.
Kenney said he had been told that asbestos was removed from the site last week. He said he wants detailed explanations from everyone involved. A source familiar with the cleanup, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of not being authorized to release information, confirmed Kenney's assertion.
Of five companies asked for bids on the demolition work, Kenney said, at least one had mentioned asbestos removal in its bid proposal and sought $40,000 to deal with asbestos alone. STB went with the lowest of the bidders, Griffin Campbell Construction Co., which was willing to do the job for less than half the amounts sought by the other bidders, Kenney said.
"It's starting to look like the asbestos report to the Health Department isn't worth the paper it was written on," Kenney said. "The firefighters, police, and others who dove into that debris to try to rescue people, those people need to have that information."
Most of those involved - Hudson, Marinakos, and attorneys for the building owner and for Griffin Campbell - did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Hudson's former employer, an environmental firm based in Delaware, said he had performed the inspections without the firm's knowledge or consent.
A spokeswoman for Geppert Bros., Mary Pat Geppert, said, "There's no story here," but declined to provide any information, referring a reporter to the city's Division of Air Management Services, an arm of the Health Department that handles asbestos issues.
Calls to the Health Department were referred to the mayor's press office, which has so far failed to answer any questions about asbestos at the site - even to release a copy of the asbestos inspection report that Marinakos filed with L&I in January. (NBC10 obtained a copy of the asbestos report two weeks ago from undisclosed sources and has posted it on its website.)
Asbestos, long used as an insulation and fire-retardant material, is known to cause certain kinds of cancer. Because of that, its handling and removal has been regulated in the United States since the 1970s.
The extent of the contamination at 22d and Market is not known, because most of the debris has been carted off. Airborne particles - the most dangerous because they can be inhaled - may have blown away.
Edward M. Nass, a Philadelphia lawyer who specializes in asbestos-related personal-injury claims, said the likely hazard from the collapse was not great. Most people who develop asbestos-caused cancers were exposed to the material for years, in such work as shipbuilding, pipe fitting, or insulation installation, he said.
There are rare cases, he said, of people developing mesothelioma, a cancer caused only by asbestos, after only a day or two of exposure. He put the risk of anyone with direct exposure, either first responders or victims who were rescued, at "one in a million or less."
It normally takes at least 10 years after exposure for victims to develop asbestos-related diseases, he said.
Another personal injury lawyer, Benjamin Shein, concurred. "I would not have cause for concern," he said.
The Inquirer has filed a request under the state Right-to-Know Law for any reports dealing with asbestos found at the demolition site, before or after the building collapse, but the administration has not yet responded - a continuing theme since the June 5 accident.
For the last four weeks, the administration has said that it could not release documents related to the failed demolition because of the district attorney's grand jury investigation.
But the District Attorney's Office issued a statement this week saying that the grand jury probe did not supersede the state's public records law and that the office had not instructed the city to withhold public records.
"The grand jury proceedings will of course be conducted in secrecy," said the statement, released by Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for District Attorney Seth Williams. "But this incident has obviously provoked extensive public discussion, and there is no reason that public officials cannot discuss issues of public policy arising from publicly available facts and materials. Materials that were public information before the collapse should still be considered public information now."
Other material withheld by the Nutter administration since the collapse includes a current list of licensed demolition sites; the successful application for city demolition work filed by Sean Benschop, the equipment operator facing involuntary manslaughter charges in the mishap; two iPhone videos recorded by Ron Wagenhoffer, an L&I inspector who apparently took his own life a week after the collapse; and the settlement memos explaining $878,000 in city tax dollars spent on demolition-related claims over the past five years.