Asbestos Battle Escalates in Oregon

Friday, we brought you a story of an asbestos problem in a Colorado high school–just the latest in a long series of such stories about school buildings across the nation. Get ready for yet another one. Salem, Oregon’s state capital is located about 45 miles south of Portland in Oregon’s lush and scenic Willamette Valley. The trouble began during the summer of 2006, when the Salem-Keizer School District hired the Woodburn Construction Company for the renovation of a school building’s kitchen. Ironically, the problems were primarily due not to the Woodburn Construction Company, but rather the choices the company made when it came to subcontractors–one of which in turn hired another subcontractor. To make a long story short, the subcontractors were allegedly careless when it came to their handling of asbestos waste, resulting in at least thirteen school employees being exposed to asbestos.

In June of 2006, subcontractors removed a kitchen wall in which asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were present, while another subcontractor tore up asbestos-containing flooring. None of the standard asbestos abatement procedures were followed, and the result was a heavy coating of asbestos-laden dust on most of the kitchen surfaces as well as the adjoining cafeteria and hallways. In addition, workers dumped ACM waste in the cafeteria doorway, leaving it there for three days. Cleaning up the mess took two months; three days after the cleanup was finished, another subcontractor drilled a hole in another kitchen wall, causing yet another release of asbestos–and the start of the 2006-2007 school year was delayed by a week as a result. None of the workers involved were licensed or trained in asbestos abatement/removal. Since last summer, lawsuits have been flying thick and fast. First, Woodburn Construction Company sued the school district, claiming that full payment for services rendered had not been made. The school district counter-sued, claiming breach of contract over the asbestos issues.

In December, Woodburn Construction sued its three subcontractors. Meanwhile, the Oregon State Department of Environmental Quality has levied fines against all parties involved. Two of the school employees who were exposed to asbestos have filed workers’ compensation claims, but these have been denied. If there is a lesson here, it may be confirmation of the old adage about how if you want something done right…