KANKAKEE — Members of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency donned hazmat suits Tuesday morning to search the interior of Jaffe Drugs in downtown Kankakee.
The crews were on scene conducting an investigation to “mitigate potential hazards” left behind after the drug store closed for business, according to the City of Kankakee.
The search was the latest step in the city’s legal battle to have the three-story structure at 217 E. Court St. condemned. The matter will be in court again Thursday with a hearing set before Kankakee County Circuit Judge Tom Cunnington.
The city first filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on Dec. 2, 2019 — which was granted by Judge Cunnington — arguing the building’s present condition constitutes a threat to the health and safety of the defendants and the public. The defendants are the owners of the building, which according to Kankakee County court records, are brothers Barry and Fred Jaffe.
Barry Jaffe was at the scene on Tuesday morning.
“I’m not sure what they are looking for in there,” he said while standing on the sidewalk near the store that has been in his family for more than 60 years.
Due to poor health, Barry, a one-time 6th Ward aldermanic candidate, and Fred Jaffe closed the store two to three years ago, Barry Jaffe said.
As part of the court injunction, the Jaffe brothers were ordered to make interior and exterior repairs to address the city’s concerns with the building.
Among the concerns was that in recent years, part of the brick façade as well as a third-story window fell to the sidewalk. No one was injured in the occurrences.
The building was to remain unoccupied until code violations were remedied.
In a Nov. 21, 2019, letter sent to the Jaffe brothers, Kankakee Fire Captain Mike Casagrande listed 10 code violations.
According to court documents, those included fire violations, a broken neon sign, a toilet valve stuck in the open position and water running, bird feces on the second and third floors, and excessive combustibles.
One notable violation is “excessive amounts of expired drugs are stored in the basement, many of these are from the early 1900s in glass bottles. An effort should be made to find proper disposal,” Casagrande’s letter said.
Citing a lack of progress on mitigation efforts, the city returned to court on June 12, 2020, seeking a permanent injunction. Judge Cunnington has not yet made a ruling in the matter.
Kankakee police and fire, as well as members of MABAS 7 Hazmat Unit, were at the scene Tuesday to support the Illinois EPA’s investigation, city officials said.
The hazmat suits worn by those entering the structure were a precaution, the city said.
“Per EPA routine protocol employees of the EPA are using PPE as a part of their initial investigation as they enter the building,” the City of Kankakee said in a post on its Facebook page.
The crews were called to the building around 9 a.m. and concluded their investigation at 11:30 a.m.
Jaffe’s attorney, Tony Brasel, was on scene Tuesday. A message was left with his office Tuesday afternoon.
There are four other businesses on the block. All four remained open as Illinois EPA conducted its investigation.