Thieves stealing copper from asbestos filled buildings

MILWAUKEE -- Thieves are breaking into vacant buildings at 35th and Hadley in Milwaukee, and officials say they could pay a hefty price for their crime.

The former site of St. Mary’s nursing home has been empty for years.  On the site is a decaying chapel and an overgrown courtyard once used for prayer. 

Security has been chasing away copper thieves.  Mark Davis of the DNR takes Fox 6 on a tour, pointing out broken windows, copper gutters torn away, and the mess of pipes left behind.

Davis says there’s more than a mile of pipes inside the crumbling buildings.  He says the thieves who target the place could face unforeseen consequences.

“If they're coming in and getting scrap, they could come down with asbestosis,” said Davis.

Davis says there’s asbestos throughout the property.  The pipes being targeted by thieves are wrapped in asbestos-filled insulation.

They’re not just stealing.  They’re making more work for the abatement crews that will arrive Monday.

“Once you drop all that asbestos you contaminate the carpet.  And then you have a lot more waste that you have to get rid of,” said Davis.

It’s possible criminals won’t know the consequences of their crime for several years.

“There’s a latency period, and it’s 15 to 20 years before any of those disease-related symptoms show up,” said Davis.

The property is on the fast track for demolition.  Abatement crews will be on site for about a month removing contaminated materials.  Wrecking crews will arrive in 2013.