Asbestos in Schools News for February 25th, 2009

In GREENBURGH, NY, three weeks after a leaky pipe caused an asbestos scare at R. J. Bailey Elementary School, tests were conducted to see if the air was safe for students and staff. Immediate testing of the area around the pipe both before and after its removal showed no signs of asbestos contamination in the air. These initial tests were conducted by the district and the Labor Department, but the third round of testing was done by Public Employees Safety and Health division of the state Labor Department.
A plumber worked in an occupied hallway on January 14, 2009, to fix the leaky pipe, which was later found to contain asbestos. A school cafeteria and classrooms were on the same floor the plumber worked. As soon as the asbestos was discovered, an abatement company was hired to remove the material. They sealed off a thirty-foot section of the hallway to prevent students and staff from being exposed. They then removed the asbestos, which did not crumble or break apart. Air quality showed minimal levels of asbestos, but the students and staff did not learn of the incident until they were blocked from the hallway by the abatement company’s seal.

According to the deputy superintendent for the Greenburgh School District, Frank Ferraro, “In retrospect, I think we would do the notification process differently. This was probably a mistake … but we didn’t want to cause any undue panic.” In NY, asbestos violations were brought to light by union members who alerted Anne D’Orazio, president of the Westchester Community College Federation of Teachers, who in turn told the officials with Westchester Community College. This action prompted the faculty union to halt the improperly planned removal of asbestos from one of the college buildings. According to D’Orazio, the college should have brought together the faculty, staff, and the abatement company to address the plan for the asbestos removal and take questions, but this step never occurred. The notice received of the removal was in the form of two letter-sized papers taped to doors forewarning of the asbestos removal during a time when both students and staff would be in the building. D’Orazio was told about the lack of notice, and as soon as she informed the college president, the asbestos abatement company, Superior Abatement, was “unhired.” Meetings have been requested by D’Orazio to delineate a clear procedure for asbestos removal including: protection measures, employment involvement, and notification.