Lot owner faces jail, fine in asbestos-removal case

A North­east com­mer­cial real es­tate own­er is fa­cing the pos­sib­il­ity of dec­ades in fed­er­al pris­on and a $1.25 mil­lion fine after a grand jury in­dicted him last week for re­mov­ing as­bes­tos in vi­ol­a­tion of the Clean Air Act.

Dav­id Mer­mel­stein, 53, of Wil­low Grove, al­legedly hired four day laborers to re­move as­bes­tos in­su­la­tion from a former fur­niture ware­house at 10175 North­east Ave. in 2009 and 2010, the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice said on Aug. 27.

That’s the same prop­erty where a neigh­bor­hood teen al­legedly shot his long­time friend 10 times in the head on Aug. 19 in a dis­pute over a stolen Play­Sta­tion video game con­sole. Au­thor­it­ies have drawn no con­nec­tion between the slay­ing and the en­vir­on­ment­al case.

The prop­erty is 11.7 acres and is va­cant ac­cord­ing to the city’s Of­fice of Prop­erty As­sess­ment. The in­dict­ment al­leges that Mer­mel­stein bought the site in 2001, when it had a “large, old-fur­niture ware­house” with “in­su­lated pipes that ran throughout the build­ing.” The in­su­la­tion was made of or con­tained as­bes­tos, ac­cord­ing to the char­ging doc­u­ment.

From Septem­ber 2009 through April 2010, Mer­mel­stein al­legedly hired four “day laborers” who were not li­censed in as­bes­tos re­mov­al to rip the in­su­lated pipes out of the build­ing “in a man­ner that did not com­ply with as­bes­tos work prac­tice stand­ards.” As­bes­tos re­mov­al is reg­u­lated by the U.S. En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency and the city’s De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health be­cause the sub­stance is a haz­ard­ous air pol­lut­ant.

Mer­mel­stein al­legedly dir­ec­ted work­ers to cut, break and rip dry as­bes­tos, al­low­ing the fibers to drop to the floor. They swept the debris and dis­posed of it in a dump­ster for reg­u­lar trash pick-up or hauled it to un­known sites, the in­dict­ment states. Fibers also were left strewn about the in­teri­or and ex­ter­i­or of the ware­house.

The ex­posed work­ers were not in­formed that they were re­mov­ing the haz­ard­ous ma­ter­i­als, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

The city be­came aware of the il­leg­al as­bes­tos work and on March 4, 2010, ordered Mer­mel­stein to stop it, but the work con­tin­ued, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

The five-count in­dict­ment ac­cuses Mer­mel­stein of fail­ing to no­ti­fy the EPA in ad­vance about the de­moli­tion pro­ject, fail­ing to wet and care­fully lower to the ground as­bes­tos-con­tain­ing ma­ter­i­als, fail­ure to keep as­bes­tos wet un­til prop­erly con­tained and dis­posed, dis­char­ging as­bes­tos in­to the out­side air and fail­ure to de­pos­it as­bes­tos at an ap­pro­pri­ate dis­pos­al site.

If con­victed, Mer­mel­stein faces up to 25 years in pris­on and a $1.25 mil­lion fine.

He is also in dire straits with the tax man. Ac­cord­ing to the city’s Rev­en­ue De­part­ment, he owes $193,277.52 in prop­erty taxes, in­terest, pen­al­ties and oth­er charges on the site. That bal­ance in­cludes about $148,000 in prin­cip­al.

The taxes are up to date through 2009, but the city has placed li­ens on the prop­erty for 2010, ’11 and ’12. The 2013 taxes are un­paid, too. Iron­ic­ally, Mer­mel­stein is due to see a big re­duc­tion in taxes un­der the city’s new full-value sys­tem. Based on a tax rate of 1.34 per­cent and a prop­erty value of $1.603 mil­lion, the 2014 tax bill should be $21,480.20, less than half of the $46,900.80 due in 2013. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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