UPTOWN — A developer renovating the former Somerset Place nursing home had been ordered to stop because of illegal asbestos removal, but now has workers back at the site after the city and state approved a new hazardous material removal plan.
In April, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the city filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against Somerset Place Realty, which owns the property at 5009 N. Sheridan Rd., developer Zidan Management Group and general contractor Dubai, Inc.
The eight-count suit sought $400,000 in damages for environmental violations related to faulty asbestos removal. A Cook County judge also ordered crews to stop work on Somerset Place, and asked defendants to submit a plan for the safe removal of the material before work could resume.
Zidan wrote in a statement to Uptown Update that the plan was approved by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the city on April 26, and that workers would be back on site this week. Illinois Attorney General spokesman Scott Mulford confirmed Tuesday that the plan was approved and said that Zidan had hired a licensed asbestos removal contractor.
But the lawsuit against the defendants is still pending, and they still face a May 21 status hearing before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Cohen, Mulford said.
City health inspectors and inspectors with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency allegedly observed crews "wearing only paper respirators," and improperly dressed for asbestos removal, Madigan's office said. The workers were "removing pipe insulation, tile and other materials containing asbestos without enclosures and without following the proper wetting procedures," Madigan's office said.
The complaint against Zidan, Somerset and Dubai alleged "substantial danger to the environment, air pollution, violation of asbestos inspection, emission control and disposal procedures, and violations regarding state and local notification of asbestos removal."
“Unfortunately, careless mishandling of this dangerous substance posed a health threat," Madigan said in a statement after the suit was announced in April. "This legal action will ensure the workers take appropriate precautions and the contractors effectively clean up the location.”
Somerset used to be a troubled nursing home that housed felons along with the elderly and mentally ill until state officials shut it down in 2010 because of patient safety violations.
The new developers want to turn the space into an apartment complex with retail space at the ground level.