With many of the schools around the country aging and in need of repair, it seems one of the stories we’re beginning to hear more often is about the problems with asbestos removal in these schools – and, more often than not, the lengthy court battle that accompanies it.
Asbestos products were widely used in construction until the mid-1970s and in some cases the mid-1980s, so it’s very conceivable to think a vast majority of schools around the country have asbestos issues to deal with. One of these stories recently came out of Vermont’s state capital, Montpelier, where local flooring company Morrison-Clark, Inc., was accused in 2008 of improperly handling asbestos during a project at a local middle school.
The company admitted no wrongdoing and agreed to settle the case – paying $65,000 to the Montpelier School District. However, this amount was not enough to recoup the legal fees and extra costs the district incurred running tests and doing necessary clean-up work after health inspectors found Morrison-Clark’s workers to be in violation. John Hollar, school board chairman, said settling was the best option given the circumstances.
The school district originally filed a consumer fraud complaint against the company, saying a representative of Morrison-Clarke had assured a school district representative that the handling of the vinyl asbestos tiles would be done properly.
The judge in the case threw out the complaint after determining it did not constitute consumer fraud. The company also agreed to pay the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) $27,500 for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act and the National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Asbestos. The EPA only got involved in the case after being tipped off by an anonymous call from an “asbestos contractor” working with the school district.
According to the EPA, the company did not provide a notice to the agency before starting work, did not wet the asbestos to keep dust from going airborne, failed to properly contain it for disposal and failed to properly handle and dispose of the asbestos. Morrison-Clark has also been banned from performing any renovation or demolition work involving vinyl asbestos tiling.
This has been the twenty-fourth “compliance action” taken by the Vermont Department of Health in the last year alone – indicating the prevalence of asbestos and the ongoing problem of proper removal.