Century-old St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church has been charged for violating seven statutes instituted by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, or DNREC, regarding asbestos removal.
During the summer of 2009, asbestos was removed from St. Peter's parochial elementary school by volunteers rather than by a DNREC-mandated certified asbestos remediation and removal contractor.
The charges, all relating to unlawful removal of asbestos by uncertified workers, and disposal of hazardous solid waste in a manner not approved by DNREC, date to August 25.
The elementary school, located at 521 Harmony St., was built in 1960 to serve students from kindergarten through Grade 8 and currently offers a full curriculum, as well as a modern library, food service program, an extended care program for latchkey kids, and a gymnasium built in the 1950s. Current enrollment is 240, with about 25 students at each grade level. St. Peter's also supports a middle school for Grades 6 through 8, but a former high school was closed in 1970.
The illegal asbestos removal occurred on or about August 17, in the school's cafeteria and gymnasium, according to DNREC head of Environmental Crimes Unit William P. McDaniel. The complaint about the illegal asbestos removal wasn't received until about August 24, however. The complaint presumably from one of the staff arriving early in preparation for the 2009-2010 school year, and a DNREC inspection occurred the next day.
DNREC lodged seven individual charges against the church in a local Justice of the Peace Court. They are: three counts of asbestos removal by an uncertified worker; one count of non-DNREC-approved hazardous waste disposal; one count of failing to seal off a work area to prevent asbestos fibers from become airborne and dispersed; one count of leaving a visible residue of asbestos at the end of the removal; and one count of failing to maintain asbestos disposal records.
Asbestos isn't dangerous if undisturbed. Once removed and broken, however, as was the case with cafeteria and gymnasium floor tiles, the fibers can be ingested or inhaled and lead to such illnesses as asbestosis, lung and digestive system cancers, and mesothelioma.
Asbestosis, a respiratory ailment, is usually the result of long-term asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma, on the other hand, can be contracted during a single asbestos exposure, and - after lying dormant for decades - become so pervasive that most patients diagnosed with this form of cancer are seldom given more than a year or 18 months to live. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (or CDC), the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (or OSHA), and the American Cancer Society all agree that there is no safe, minimum asbestos exposure level; an hour or a lifetime can trigger mesothelioma.
Under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) regulations, adapted by various state environmental agencies, all schools in the United States - whether public, private or parochial - are required to create, maintain and disseminate an asbestos reporting, monitoring and mitigation plan, via a designated liaison, which insures that initial and timely asbestos inspections (and mitigations) are performed by a licensed individual or firm; that parents and staff are notified of both the plan (on a regular basis) and of asbestos "events"; and that maintenance personnel are trained in asbestos recognition and safe handling.
Apparently, the impetuous volunteers who undertook to remove the tiles were either not aware of said plan, or did not understand the ramifications. Parents who learned of the removal after the fact were reportedly quite upset that the job was allowed to take place without notification - in fact, without church official's knowledge. In fact, one parent, a supervisor for a union-approved asbestos remediation crew, said he was appalled at the lack of communication that allowed such a thing to happen, and at how poorly the removal was handled.
Nothing has been said about air quality tests to determine if asbestos contamination has occurred, but DNREC regulations will likely mandate them.