Concerns linger as fire prompts environmental testing at crumbling commercial building

Posted at 8:17 PM, Feb 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-16 20:17:01-05

A decaying and crumbling industrial building in Cleveland’s Stockyards neighborhood was the site of air quality testing Friday afternoon after a massive fire broke out Tuesday morning.

While the testing did not find elevated levels of mercury in the air, officials said the priority now is to make sure the building is secure so trespassers don’t track the contamination outside.

The property is located in the 7200 block of Wentworth Avenue.

Tuesday’s 3-alarm fire turned an attached loading dock into a charred husk. The brick exterior is covered in soot and the large chunks of the roof have collapsed.

Two days later, the fire department was called back out to the property. While there wasn’t an open flame, fire officials said there was a haze present in the building, possibly caused by scrappers working inside. The HAZMAT team was called out because of environmental concerns, fire officials said.

According to records obtained by News 5, the property has a lengthy history of environmental concerns and violations.

In an environmental assessment conducted by the federal government, levels of two known carcinogens, volatile compounds and other metals were discovered in the groundwater and soil, the report stated. Additionally, inspectors suspected the building contained asbestos and lead paint. The report was completed in 2006.

At the time, there were tentative plans to turn the building into a mixed-used development. However, those plans never materialized.

“They need to go ahead and tear it down. They [aren’t doing anything] with it,” said Willie Williams, who lives across the decrepit building. “We called the government and they said no one is supposed to be in the building but there are people working inside the building all the time. It just needs to go. It makes the whole neighborhood look bad.”

According to property records, the property was purchased for $1,500 at a forfeited land auction in 2010 by NDHMD Inc., a for-profit company. George Dietrich owns the company. Dietrich is also affiliated with Fluorescent Recycling Inc., which operates inside the building, according to business filings. As a result of Tuesday’s fire, state officials have told the owner that he needs to remove the hazardous waste and clean up the property. 

While there is no active public safety risk, state officials also notified the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District that some of the water used to fight this week’s fire may have picked up trace amounts of mercury before entering the combined sewer system.

“I’ve got seven kids and we’re out here playing all the time. Every summer we’re out here having fun,” Williams said. “People don’t like coming over here because of that building.”

State environmental officials have a lengthy history with the property and Fluorescent Recycling. According to records, one of the pending cases was transferred to the attorney general’s office. City code enforcement officials have also responded to complaints about the property numerous times.

“It looks like hell. There’s graffiti all over it. The roof falls down on your car,” said Frank Billington. “You have these big tire pieces falling down all over the place.”

The property owner could not be reached for comment.